French journalist Vincent Reynaud, Belgian freelance reporter Thierry Falise and U-S pastor Naw Karl Mua were freed and deported from Laos Wednesday. They had been sentenced to 15 years in prison in connection with the death last month of a village security guard.
Lao officials say the decision to free the men was made after negotiations with their home countries. The officials say the men were required to pay compensation to the government and the family of the security guard.
The journalists and the pastor were convicted of possessing explosives and obstructing justice after a June third clash between ethnic Hmong rebels and villagers in the northern Lao province of Xieng Khuang. Authorities say the security guard was killed in the incident.
Press freedom groups say the three were punished simply for reporting on the Hmong minority, which opposes the communist government in Vientiane.
In Bangkok, one of the journalists, Thierry Falise, said their trial and sentencing was a total mockery of justice. He said the Lao government decided everything in advance and made up lies to bolster its case.