By BosNewsLife Asia Service
VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)-- Three pastors were still held "in harsh prison conditions" in western Laos Thursday, September 20, over a week after they were detained for their involvement in house churches, representatives told BosNewsLife.
They are among five Christian leaders who were detained September 11 in Phin district of Savannakhet province, though two of them have since been released, said Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF), which assists them with advocacy.
The HRWLRF said Pastor Bounlert, of Alowmai church and the Phin district Christian group, Adang, pastor of Kengsainoy church, and Onkaew, pastor of Kapang church, remain handcuffed.
Additionally, foot stocks were allegedly placed on Onkaew, a method rights watchers say is often used by police to torture detainees.
In several parts of Laos people use only one name to identify themselves.
HRWLRF, an advocacy group with close contacts in the region, told BosNewsLife it remains concerned about district police officials who reportedly visited the pastors churches and interrogated their wives.
The group said questions included "Who persuaded you to become Christians?", "Why do you believe in the Christian faith?" and "Who first became Christians in your church?".
Police also wanted to know "Where is the church getting money from?", "How much money was used to build the church building?" and "What kind of daily work" is the
pastor involved in?, HRWLRF, added.
There was no immediate comment from police officials. Local authorities have often defended their actions, saying they want to protect local traditions in the Communist-run Asian nation.
HRWLRF said it was concerned that "All three pastors continue to suffer physically due to their Christian faith and the construction of their houses which are being used for church assembly."
The advocacy group said the detention could not have come at a worse time for Adang and Onkaew who "are seriously ill due to their health conditions."
Family members were reportedly seeking permission from Lao authorities to get them treated at the Savannakhet provincial hospital, but there was no known
response from officials Thursday, September 20.
It was the latest in a series of incidents in the region, that also included members of Lao security forces being fired for their Christian faith, BosNewsLife reported earlier. Rights activists say churches and Christian groups are often targeted targeted if they operate outside government control.
The HRWLRF said it has urged the Lao government to immediately release the three pastors.
It added it asked authorities "to respect the right of Lao Christians to religious freedom—to adhere to any religion of choice as guaranteed under the Lao constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was ratified by the Lao government".