Five Christians accused of murder in Laos were acquitted Wednesday but remain in custody, according to a US-based rights group.
The prosecutor’s office in Savannakhet province ruled that the five, charged with murdering a recent Christian convert, had no case to answer, said Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
But, it added, the office does not have the power to release them. That must await a decision from Atsaphangthong district authorities.
The five – a local pastor named as Kaithong and four other Christians named as Puphet, Muk, Hasadee and Tiang – were accused of killing a woman named as Mrs Chan, who was a recent convert to Protestant Christianity.
Mrs Chan, who was suffering from an unidentified two-year illness, died en route from hospital to her home in Atsaphangthong. The village chief granted permission for a Christian funeral, but later ordered Pastor Kaithong, who was conducting the funeral, to stop the proceedings.
Kaithong appealed to the local district chief and was instructed to wait one day for a decision. However, according to HRWLRF, the village chief and the police authorities arrested Kaithong and the four Christians on June 23. They were accused of giving medication to the victim on the journey back from the hospital, causing her death.
The report cannot be independently confirmed but in London on Wednesday, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said its research identified Savannakhet province as one of the worst in Laos for violations of religious freedom.
These included “forced evictions, arrests and detention, disruption of religious meetings and services and forced participation in animist ceremonies”, CSW said.