By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)– A devoted Christian who was jailed nine months in southern Laos for praying for a sick person has died because prison authorities denied him medical treatment, his supporters told BosNewsLife.
“Mr. Tiang Kwentianthong, a Christian believer of Huey village in Atsaphangthong district of Savannakhet province… died on September 17, 2015, from his diabetic condition that had become very severe,” said the well-informed Human Rights Watcher for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF). He was 61.
While in prison in Savannakhet province for almost nine months, he “continued to suffer severe diabetes. During his imprisonment…He requested permission to be treated for his worsening diabetic condition but the prison officials denied his request,” the group added.
There was no immediate reaction from Lao officials.
Tiang was among five Christian men who visited Chansee, a local Christian woman who had requested prayer after hearing from her daughter and another relative that praying could bring healing, fellow believers said. She later died however.
Local non-Christian authorities were angered that the five men prayed for Chansee because she had recently embraced Christianity, Christians claimed.
After she accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, “all her eight sons and daughters began embracing the Christian faith in April [last year], four of whom are married,” Prasertsee explained to BosNewsLife in an earlier interview.
Church and other Christian activities, including public prayers, require government permission but Christians claim the Communist government rarely gives consent. Only a limited number of registered Christian congregations are allowed to operate in this heavily Buddhist nation of nearly 7 million people.
Last year the People’s Court of Savannakhet Province cleared Tiang Kwentianthong and the other Christians Phuphet Phanmalaithong, 47, Kaithong Kounphaisan, 38, Hasdee Thammathoun, 44, and 51-year-old Muk Boulakham of murder charges but ruled that they were guilty of “performance of the medical profession without a license”, confirmed Sirikoon Prasertsee, director of watchdog ‘Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom’ (HRWLRF).
The Court reportedly accused the men, of being “quack doctors” and “sentenced them to nine months imprisonment and a fine of $62 each.” The Court also ordered them “to pay an additional fine of $2,450 to the deceased family,” a huge amount in impoverished Laos, Prasertsee told BosNewsLife.
The men were released in March to appeal their sentence, but by that time Kwentianthong’s situation had worsened, leading to his early death last week, said Prasertsee. “He was in prison starting June 24, 2014, until March 20, 2015.”
The Christian, who was in his 60s, leaves behind his wife Bow and six children as well as an elderly sister, Christians explained.
In a statement to BosNewsLife, the HRWLRF said it has demanded that that the Lao government and Savannakhet provincial prison officials “take responsibility for the death of Mr. Tiang Kwentianthong who was arrested and imprisoned illegally and who was denied request for medical treatment for his worsening diabetic condition.”
The HRWLRF also urged “the Courts of Appeal to consider and make judgement on the appeal filed by the remaining four prisoners “because the deadline for the Court of Appeals to decide the case is now 154 days passed the time limit for the case to be decided.”
Several rights groups and the United States have expressed concern about the treatment of prisoners and the Lao legal system.