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Laos: Fear for safety / possible prisoners of conscience

, Index number: ASA 26/001/1998

Thirty-three unnamed men and women: Thirty-three men and women have been placed in incommunicado detention at two unknown detention facilities in Vientiane since 31 January 1998. They were part of a group of 44 people arrested at a bible study meeting held by the evangelical Churches of Christ. Among those arrested were the organisers of the meeting - three Americans working for the NGO Partners in Progress, a French and a Thai national: they were released on 4 February and given seven days to leave the country. Six Laotians, including three children and one pregnant woman, were also released.

EXTERNAL AI Index: ASA 26/01/98
UA 38/98 Fear for safety / Possible prisoners of
conscience 6 February 1998
LAOSThirty-three un-named men and women
Amnesty International is concerned for the safety of 33 men and women who have
been placed in incommunicado detention at two unknown detention facilities
in Vientiane since 31 January 1998. One of the men, a preacher, is believed
to be held in solitary confinement - he has been arrested on several previous
occasions but never charged.
The 33 men and women were part of a group of 44 people arrested at a Bible
study meeting being held by the evangelical Churches of Christ. The others
arrested included the organizers of the meeting - three Americans working for
the NGO, Partners in Progress, and a French and Thai national - all released
on 4 February and given seven days to leave the country. Six Laotians, including
three children and one pregnant woman, have also been released.
In an official report on the arrests, the authorities alleged that the real
purpose of the meeting was not religious and that those attending had "wrongly
slandered the Lao Government, attempting to interfere in internal affairs of
Laos" and that the meeting "disparaged other religions", contrary to the
constitution.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Official authorization must be obtained to hold meetings in Laos. Whereas the
authorities allege that the meeting held on 31 January was not authorized,
Partners in Progress staff believed that they had obtained written authorization
from local authorities which they thought to be sufficient. Previous Sunday
Bible study meetings held regularly in Vientiane had attracted no interference
from the authorities.
Article 26 of the Lao Constitution guarantees freedom to "profess or not to
profess any religion". However, in their justification for the arrests, the
Lao authorities have cited Article 9[10] which prohibits "acts of division
amongst religions".
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/express/airmail letters in English,
French or your own language:
- urging that the authorities make public the names and whereabouts of the
33 men and women arrested on 31 January 1998 and the precise charges against
them;
- urging the authorities to guarantee their safety and ensure that they are
treated in accordance with international minimum standards;
- urging that they be allowed immediate access to families, lawyers and doctors;
- expressing concern that they may be prisoners of conscience detained solely
for exercising their rights to freedom of belief and worship.
APPEALS TO:
Sisavat Keobounphan
Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
Vientiane
Laos
Telegrams: Prime Minister, Vientiane, Laos
2
Salutation: Your Excellency
Major General Asang Laoli
Minister of Interior
Ministry of Interior
Vientiane
Laos
Telegrams: Interior Minister, Vientiane, Laos
Salutation: Dear Major General
COPIES TO: diplomatic representatives of Laos accredited to your country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat,
or your section office, if sending appeals after 20 March 1998.

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