A pastor has been released from prison in Laos after being locked up for nearly 13 years because of his Christian activities.
Bounchan Kanthavong was set free on 2 February, having been arrested in June 1999 and then sentenced to twelve years in jail for treason and sedition.
His only “crimes” appear to have been receiving Bible training and sharing his faith with people who came into his clothing shop. Bounchan’s witness led to around 70 people accepting Christ.
He had been introduced to Christianity in January 1997 when he spent the night with a Christian family while away on business. When he returned to his home in Vanghai village, Udomsai province, Bounchan began to spread his new faith. People came to his shop from other villages, keen to hear and embrace the Gospel.
The Lao authorities repeatedly warned him to stop believing, practising and spreading the Christian faith and ordered him to cease all worship activities at the shop.
They were concerned about people leaving the traditional Lao religion (spirit worship) and embracing what they consider a foreign religion, thus becoming loyal to a power other than the Lao authorities. Bounchan’s actions were thus perceived as a threat to national security and interpreted as treason and sedition.
Bounchan is married with five children. Following his detention, his wife Sengkham took over the leadership of their Christian community, which has grown to more than 3,000 believers today.
Last April, the authorities told Bounchan that they were willing to release him if he renounced Christ and separated from Sengkham.
But he clearly did not as his detention was prolonged. Bounchan’s health, particularly his eyes, suffered during his time in jail, and his family struggled without his leadership and provision.