Seven Christians spent five days behind bars after police raided a Christmas church service in Laos on 29 December 2018.
Nine police officers swooped on the church in Nakanong village in the southern province of Savannakhet, arresting three church leaders on charges of an “illegal gathering”. They returned later that evening and arrested another four Christians.
The seven were freed on 2 January, according to local sources, but not before the authorities had destroyed the church stage, cut off the power, wrecked the sound system and seized mobile phones.
In a statement, the human rights group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) called on Laos' communist government to respect the religious freedom rights of its citizens, as protected by UN conventions and the country’s own constitution.
While Buddhists enjoy comparative religious freedom in some parts of Laos, Christians are viewed with suspicion by the authorities, largely because of a perceived connection with the West. Churches are required to register with the government, get approval to hold services and to import printed or electronic literature.