A pastor and four other church leaders in Laos,Thailand were found guilty of being 'illegal doctors' because they prayed for a sick woman who later died.
Reports say The pastors were sentenced to nine months in prison and a fine of 500,000 kips (US$62) each by the People’s Court of Savannakhet Province on Feb. 12 .
They were also ordered to jointly pay 20 million kips (US$2,448) in emotional damages and funeral costs to the family of the deceased, according to court records.
According to the Morning Star news, the woman who died, identified only as Chansee (also known as Chan), had been ill for two years with an unknown condition.
It was gathered that various kinds of healers and doctors in Saisomboon village, Atsaphangthong District, had treated her without success, area residents told a representative of the Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
“Without proving that the five Christians had malicious intent or that their action of prayer was cause-in-fact of the death, the court has abused the law,” a representative of HRWLRF told Morning Star News on condition of anonymity.
“Facts needed to be brought out in court that the arrest and conviction was to stop the Christians from spreading the Christian faith.”
Held in prison after their arrest in June 2014, the Christians – female pastor Kaithong Khounphaisane and four leaders of other churches identified in court records as Phouphet, Muk, Hatsady and Thiang – are now imprisoned at Savannakhet Provincial Prison.
Reports say Chansee, who had put her faith in Christ, on June 19, 2014 requested prayer from the Christian leaders, who prayed for her for two days, according to court records. When her condition did not improve, the Christians brought her to 109 Hospital in Utumphone District, where she was treated by a licensed physician.
On June 21 she requested discharge from the hospital so she could die at home, and by arrival she had died, court records show.
The Ministry of Health is responsible for authorizing candidates for medical practice, the HRWLRF representative said.
“The officials in the Ministry of Health were not called upon by the People’s Court to give opinion whether praying for the sick alone, without the use of drug or material remedy, needs authorization from the Ministry of Health,” he said. “Secondly, it was not proved beyond any doubt that prayer was the cause-in-fact of the death.”
By ruling that praying for the sick for healing in accordance with one’s religious beliefs constitutes an act considered medical practice requiring a license from the Ministry of Health, the People’s Court wrongly found the five Christians guilty of performing medical profession without license, the HRWLRF representative said.
“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,” he added.