By BosNewsLife Asia Service with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)-- Authorities in southern Laos have fined seven regional church leaders for "violating local customs and beliefs" after torturing them for some two weeks, Christian rights activists told BosNewsLife Friday, December 30.
The Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) said the church officials were detained December 16 in Boukham Village, located in Savannakhet Province's Ad-Sapangthong District.
In the last two weeks they being restrained in wooden stocks, commonly used in Lao prisons and detention centers, sometimes combined with exposure to red fire ants, as a form of torture, according to rights investigators.
"The village authorities claimed that Christians due to their beliefs and practices in the Christian faith have violated the village’s 'hiit', the village’s traditional customs and spirit beliefs," HRWLRF said in a statement to BosNewsLife. "If not admitting to the charges and paying fines, seven leaders will continue to be subjected to torture in wooden stocks."
The fines were reportedly several times the average monthly wage of rougly $40. Pastors Sompong and Ma of the Boukham church were fined some $250 in local currency, and forced to handover one cow, a value of $200, the group said.
Pastors Wanta and Oun of the nearby Liansai church, were fined $125 and 1 cow. The same sentences were given to Pastors Kaithong and Kai of the Saisomboon church and Pastor Puphet of the Donpalai church, In Laos people often use only one name.
HRWLRF's Director Sirikoon Prasertsee told BosNewsLife that the "Lao district and village authorities" torturing tactics are now severely affecting the health of three church leaders in Boukham village.
"Puphet, who has kidney problems, is now turning pale and yellowish. His legs are swollen and infected. Also, Wanta’s and Oun’s legs are swollen and infected." Prasertsee said "The cause of the swollen condition and infection is that their legs, being fastened to wooden stocks, are raised higher than their bottoms above grounds." He said this is "resulting in obstruction of the blood flow. In addition, wooden stocks are causing excruciating, physical pain and bruises."
The latest reported incidents come shortly after Christians told BosNewsLife that authorities plan to expel at least 47 Christians, "including men, women and children," from Natoo village in the Palansai District of Savannakhet province.
"The Christians...are still conducting worship service in their home. So far, nothing has happened. It is believed that international advocacy is preventing Lao authorities from carrying out their eviction plan," Prasertsee added in an interview.
Additionally, Christians in the nearby village of Huey were forced to cease practicing their Christian faith in order to bury a Christian woman, identified as Wang, who passed away on Christmas Day, he said. "The future of Christians in Huey village is extremely bleak as Lao authorities continue to punish Christians for their religious beliefs."
His said his group has urged the government to ensure that all Lao nationals will be granted the freedom to express their faitn.
Lao authorites have been difficult to reach for comment. Analysts say Christianity is generally perceived as a Western ideology that challenges Communism. There are as many as 200,000 devoted Christians in the Communist-run Asian nation, where most of the 6.4 million people are Buddhists, according to Christian rights investigators.