By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)-- Five Christians accused of "murdering" a Christian convert and organizing an illegal funeral for her in southern Laos were found "not guilty by prosecutors, but authorities refused to release them, a rights official told BosNewsLife Thursday, July 7.
A main prosecutors office in Lao's Savannakhet province ruled Wednesday, August 6, that Pastor Kaithong and three other church leaders, Puphet, Muk and Hasadee as well as fellow Christian Tiang, "did not commit any criminal offence".
The Savannakhet Provincial Office has now informed the Atsapangthong district chief of the ruling, who has to decide whether or not to release the five [men]," said Sirikoon Prasertsee, director of watchdog 'Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom' (HRWLRF). However, "the decision to release the five from prison has not been made yet," Prasertsee cautioned.
The men were detained June 23 on charges of murdering Christian woman Chan, after she reportedly died from an unidentified two-year illness en route from hospital back to her Saisomboon village home in the provincial Atsaphangthong district.
They were also prevented from organizing a Christian funeral and Chan was eventually buried by Buddhist monks, Christians said.
A village chief and police accused Pastor Kaithong of giving Chan medication that caused her death, apparently with support from the other four Christians.
However local Christians said authorities were angered that the five men prayed for Chan, who recently embraced Christianity.
After she accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, "all her eight sons and daughters began embracing the Christian faith in April, four of whom are married," Prasertsee explained.
Chan’s family became the fifth family in Saisomboon village to "embrace the Christian faith", his group
Prasertsee told BosNewsLife that the detention of the Christians was part of an official crackdown on spreading Christianity in especially rural areas of this Communist-led Asian nation.
Church activities require government permission, but Christians claim authorities rarely give consent.
Only a limited number of registered Christian congregations are allowed to operate in this heavily Buddhist nation of nearly 7 million people.