January 19, 2012
Seven Christian leaders who were detained and tortured for nearly a month in southern Laos have been released, but concerns remain about the confiscation of church buildings in the area, according to International Christian Concern. The Christians, who were arrested for violating their village's local traditional customs and spirit beliefs because of their Christian faith practices, were held in wooden stocks, sometimes combined with exposure to red fire ants as a form of torture, and forced to pay steep fines, said Sirikoon Prasertsee, director of the Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom. While pleased the church leaders were released, Prasertsee said he remained concerned about churches being confiscated nearby. Authorities have barred Christians from entering two church buildings in Savannakhet province, and 23 others are at risk of government seizure. The Christian minority in Laos is generally viewed as a threat to the communist government, although officials repeatedly deny human rights abuses against minorities.