By BosNewsLife Asia Service
VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)-- Lao authorities have released four Christians, including two Thai citizens, who were detained in June after being caught explaining the Bible to at least one Lao man, rights activists confirmed late Friday, August 24.
Thai Christians Jonasa Wiwatdamrong, 54, and his brother Phanthakorn, 40, were among those detained June 16 in the village of Luang Namtha Phone Sampan in the Long District of northern Luang Namtha province, explained Sirikoon Prasertsee, director of Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
Britain-based advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said in a statement that it learned Friday, August 24, that the police released the four men after forcing them to "pay a small fine."
While there were no official charges brought against them, their supporters linked the six-week detention to their involvement in Bible study.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said that while his group "welcomes the release of these four men" it remained concerned "that their arrest is part of a pattern of religious repression that continues to occur in many parts of the country."
He said that in Luang Namtha province alone, Christians in at least 15 villages have reported similar cases of harassment by the Lao authorities.
Lao government officials have reportedly expressed concerns that there are an estimated 200,000 devoted Christians in the Communist-run Asian nation, where most of the 6.4 million people are Buddhists.
"We urge the Lao authorities to adhere to international standards on religious freedom both at the national and provincial level,” Thomas stressed.
Lao officials were not known to have commented on the case of the four men who were released. It was not immediately clear what role, if any, the Thai embassy had played in their reported release.