Authorities in Laos have released eight Protestants after using shock treatment to force them to renounce their faith, according to a British human rights monitor. The Christians, from Savannakhet province in southern Laos, were arrested May 31 amid a government campaign to shut down churches, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

The men had been accused of anti-government activities and involvement with foreign political movements in order to weaken the government. The Southeast Asian country is ruled by the communist Lao Peoples Revolutionary Party.

CSW, based in New Malden, England, learned Tuesday that three of the men were released on July 3 but does not know when the others were let go. Seven are leaders of a church in the town of Paksong in Songkhone District: Sipasert Phuadaeng, 52, Bounyarn Robkhob, 58, Tem Chanthara, 56, Kong Phaeng Phrasawat, 36, Phouwanard Trivilaisook, 40, and two others identified only as Mr. Kiloy, 36, and Mr. Puang, 60. The eighth man, Mr. Khemphet, 30, is described as an active member of the church.

The British group said in a statement that the men "were unable to bear the strain of their conditions, which for some included being held in stocks and handcuffs, and agreed to renounce their religion." Later, however, they were overcome with remorse and grief about their decision.

Just before the arrests, authorities gave churches in Songkhone district a deadline of June 1 to close down their meetings, CSW said. Jubilee Campaign, a Christian human rights organization based in Guildford, England, said last week it has received information that the central government of Laos has secretly ordered local authorities to close down churches throughout the country, starting in the countryside. ...

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