As each new morning dawns in Laos, Pa Tood, a 46-year-old Laotian church leader, remains unaware of night or day, deep inside the remote Savannakhet prison in southern Laos. Pa Tood's refusal to recant his Christian faith, as demanded by Laotian communists, led to his languishing in prison for more than a year.Christians in Laos say even though the courts do not have sufficient proof to make charges against prisoners, evidence is often fabricated so that believers can be detained in stocks for long periods.Pa Tood declined his village headman's offer to bail him out. "if I wanted to give up my faith, I wouldn't be here. I don't need your bail," he reportedly replied.For such comments, Pa Tood was confined to stocks 24 hours a day, causing his legs to swell from the strain. He receives water every day, but is often deprived of food for extended periods. Married and with five children, Pa Tood has been out of regular contact with his family and church.Since 1997 the Lao government has come down heavily on minorities, including Christians. Last November, three church leaders-Sisamuth, Peto, and Boonme-were sentenced to five years in jail in Mano Prison, Luang Prabang. They were accused of "gathering together to create social turmoil" when in fact, they were meeting to discuss some family concerns.In January 1998, 44 Christians were arrested at a Bible study in a private home. The last of the 44 were released in June 1999, after being held for 17 months.

Tightening the Screws

The Lao government apparently considers the church a potential political threat even though less than 2 percent of the population of 5.3 million people in Laos are Christians. A detailed report compiled by Thailand-based Christians says 60 Christians are ...

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