Pastors released after arrest for 'spreading Christian religion'

Three Christian pastors in Lao have been released from prison after being arrested on 5 February on charges of "spreading the Christian religion".

Pastors Bounma, Somkaew and Bounmee were arrested on 5 February 2013 by the Phin District police in Savannakhet province after a police officer saw them copying and watching a DVD about the 'End Times' in a copy shop in Phin District market.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) confirmed that all three pastors have returned to their homes.

They were arrested despite insisting the three copies were for their own use.

While one pastor and the shop owner were released soon after their arrest, the two other pastors were detained at Phin district prison.

CSW received reports that they were being held in a high security section of the prison where prisoners' legs are chained together and inmates are not allowed to leave the room.

Pastor Bounma was reportedly kicked and beaten severely by the arresting police lieutenant whilst in detention in an attempt to force him to confess.

CSW's Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said welcomed their release but said he was "deeply concerned" about the false allegations against the men and about the use of torture to extract a confession.

"We urge the Lao authorities to protect the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and to ensure that detainees are not subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in line with the Lao government's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," he said.