Laos’ People’s Court Ruling: Praying for the Sick Is A Criminal Offense – Sentenced to 9 Months in Prison and Hefty Fine

Kaysone Phomvihane, Savannakhet Province
Advocacy Alert No. 01/2015
February 14, 2015

On February 2, 2015, almost 8 months after the arrest of five Christian pastors/leaders, namely Kaithong, Puphet, Muk, Hasadee, and Tiang, the People’s Court of Savannakhet province ruled that the five pastors/leaders were found guilty of criminal offense causing the death of Mrs. Chansee (also known as Chan). The People’s Court based its judgment on Article 82 of the Lao Penal Code (Performance of Medical Profession without License) declaring that the five Christians were treating Mrs. Chansee without an official license causing her to die. (People’s Court of Savannakhet Province, Case No. 028/KT.S, Decision on February 12, 2015). The Court convicted the five Christians of being quack doctors and sentenced them to 9 months in prison and a fine of USD 62 each. The Court further ordered them to pay additional fine of USD 2,450 to the deceased family. They are currently being imprisoned at the Savannakhet Provincial Prison.

Interestingly, Mrs. Chansee in her legal capacity requested that she be treated with prayer for her illness since she had heard through her daughter and another relative that praying could bring healing. The five Christians treated Chansee’s illness solely by spiritual means through prayer without the use of any drug or material remedy in accordance with the tenets of their Christian religion as practiced in the Christian denominations in Laos and also worldwide.

By ruling that praying for the sick for healing in accordance to one’s religious beliefs constitutes an action that is considered medical practice needing licensing from the Ministry of Health, the People’s Court thus found the five Christians guilty of criminal offense of performing medical profession without license, causing the death of Mrs. Chansee. In the whole process of investigation and court trial, the five Christians were not given the chance to have a lawyer to represent their case.

The People’s Court may not have taken into account the severe illness suffered by Mrs. Chansee may be the cause-in-fact of her death. The five Christians seriously believed that God could heal Mrs. Chansee through their prayer of faith and did not foresee her death in their place of prayer. After two days of praying, Mrs. Chansee’s condition had not improved; the  Christians thus took her to the 109 Hospital in Utumphone district of Savannakhet province. She was diagnosed through blood test and treated at the hospital by a licensed medical. In fact, Mrs. Chansee’s death did not occur in the location where the five were praying for Mrs. Chansee’s healing but shortly after leaving the 109 Hospital.

The HRWLRF views that the action of praying for healing, which is an exercise of religious freedom and belief as practiced worldwide among all credible Christian denominations, does not constitute medical practice that would necessitate medical license, which could only be issued by the Lao Ministry of Health. In addition, the People’s Court has not proved beyond any doubt that the five Christians were the cause-in-fact of the death of Mrs. Chansee. The verdict of the People’s Court regarding the five Christians appears to have no legal basis.

Thus, the HRWLRF urges the Lao government and the People’s Court of Savannakhet province to reconsider the judgment of the People’s Court and to respect the right of the five Christians, namely Kaithong, Puphet, Muk, Hasadee, and Tiang, and other Lao people to religious freedom and the accompanying rights as guaranteed in the Lao constitution and the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Laos in 2009, upholding the individual’s right to adopt a religion/belief of choice as well as the right to manifest that religion/belief in a corporate worship (Article 18). Any form of coercion impairing the freedom to have and manifest one’s religion/belief of choice is condemned in the Covenant.

Links to the Court Ruling (Lao), Court Ruling (English translation), Lao Criminal Law/Penal Code (English)



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