Laos Authorities Ban Christian Worship In Southern Area
Christian villagers in southern Laos have been threatened with detention and “huge fines” if they continue their church services, well-informed Christians told Worthy News. Sunday’s incident came amid a broader crackdown on Christianity by authorities in the Communist-run Asian nation, Worthy News learned during past investigations in the country.
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Laos Authorities Ban Christian Worship In Southern Area
Christian villagers in southern Laos have been threatened with detention and “huge fines” if they continue their church services, well-informed Christians told Worthy News.
Sunday’s incident came amid a broader crackdown on Christianity by authorities in the Communist-run Asian nation, Worthy News learned during past investigations in the country.
“On Sunday, October 1, the deputy chief of Khampou village” in Savannakhet Province “ordered” Sard Onmeunsee, a Christian woman leading the village church, and 17 other believers, to end their activities, Christians said.
The believers were told “to cease manifesting their religion or belief in worship,” added the Human Rights Watcher for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) advocacy group, which supports the believers.
“They were threatened with arrest and huge fines if they did not follow the officials’ order to discontinue exercising their religious freedom or belief to worship,” complained the group.
The animosity towards believers dates back to 2019 when villagers accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, according to sources familiar with the situation. “About 180 Lao villagers” in the region “also adopted the Christian faith in the two years” that followed, said HRWLRF.
“And thus began pressures and threats from the local government upon Christians, coercing them to give up their faith. The local government subjected Christians to intimidations, threats, and coercion throughout 2022 and 2023, forcing them to abandon their Christian religion,” HRWLRF recalled.
BELIEVERS EXPRESSING FAITH
More than a dozen believers continued openly expressing their Christian faith, led by Sard Onmeunsee, despite opposition, Christians said. “The last act of aggression from government officials against religious freedom or belief occurred on Sunday, October 1. The deputy village chief and village security authorities interrupted the house worship gathering of Khampou village Christians,” confirmed HRWLRF.
“They were joined by two other believers from a nearby village. They were threatened with huge fines if people in the village became ill or sick or died. The two believers from a nearby village will automatically be arrested if they join the worship the next time,” HRWLRF told Worthy News.
The group said it would pressure the government to ensure that authorities “cease all acts of aggression against Christians in Khampou village” and allow them to gather freely.
The group believes village authorities responsible for the attacks should be “punished for the unlawful acts of aggression” against local Christians. It urged Laos to “guarantee protection against all physical and psychological threats, and to respect, protect, and promote their freedom of religion or belief in Khampou village and Assphone district.”
The HRWLRF has also asked the “United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and U.N. Special Rapporteur” to intervene.
The incident comes when Communist authorities of Laos consider most church meetings “illegal gatherings,” and Christians live under intense scrutiny, rights activists say.
Officially, the Lao Constitution recognizes the right and freedom of the Lao citizens “to believe or not to believe in religions.” In practice, the story is different, Worthy News learned.
CHURCHES STILL MONITORED
“In Laos, some churches are registered and heavily monitored, but others cannot get permission to meet and have to operate secretly. Even among the government-approved churches, few have permanent buildings of their own and have to meet in homes. Christians are generally viewed as Western-influenced ‘enemies of the state,’“ added advocacy group Open Doors.
“The leaders of unregistered churches have been arrested and held for as long as a year; their families and churches have to pay huge sums of money for their release.
In most cases, local authorities are the source of persecution, frequently cooperating with the community and families,” Open Doors noticed.
Increasing the difficulties are reports that in Laos, a majority Buddhist nation, people from the Buddhist-animist community who become Christians face pressure and violence. Their families and local authorities often target them, Christians observed. “The community often gets stirred up against them until the new believers are expelled from their home village,” Open Doors said.
The group ranks Laos number 31 on its annual World Watch List of 50 nations, where it says Christians face most persecution for their faith.
Besides facing arrests, Christians also endure discrimination in the workplace and may be barred from or lose their government jobs when their faith becomes known, said Christians with close knowledge about these cases.
“The lack of educational and professional opportunities has contributed to Christian boys and men getting ensnared in drug addictions. Pastors in northern Laos say Christian girls are increasingly targeted as brides to be trafficked into China,” explained Open Doors.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Laos, a former French colony, began opening up, but critics say the government remains a tight grip on the impoverished nation, which heavily depends on labor-intensive agriculture.
Despite international pressure, there are no signs yet that life would get easier for devoted Christians under Thongloun Sisoulith, Lao People’s Revolutionary Party’s general secretary and, thus, effective leader of Laos, activists suggest. In power since January 2021, he is the first civilian with no military background to be general secretary of this nation of nearly 8 million people.