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Missions Insider Report :: Missions Insider

Loopholes allow for continual persecution in Laos

April 29, 2009

Another threatened church

The Laos constitution professes freedom of religion in its Constitution: "Lao citizens, irrespective of their sex, social status, education, faith, and ethnic groups are all equal before the law" according to Article 22.

Article 9, however, is loosely written to say, "The state respects and protects all lawful activities of the Buddhists and of other religious followers . . . to participate in the activities which are beneficial to the country and people."

So, practicing Christianity in any of its manifestations can be construed as not being beneficial to the country. Charges are made against Christians for "violating the religious traditions of their ancestors." Worship services, religious gatherings, Christian burial services, marriage ceremonies, prayer meetings, evensong and praise all qualify as violations.

Praising God amid turmoil

Politics weigh heavily in the accusations made against Christians in Laos. This is just a sampling of letters from groups receiving help through Christian Aid:

In July of last year, 17 Christian families were detained in the Katin village school. The district authorities ordered the families be detained without food. They brought with them a book entitled "The Tricks of the Enemy." (The "enemy," being the United States of America.) The authorities accused all those believing in Christ as being helpers of the Americans, because "Christianity is the American religion."

In another village, approximately 22 Christian households, consisting of 150 members, met with typical abuse. Authorities forbade them to assemble for worship services. To that end, district, forestry, and judicial officials jointly tore down their church building. Because of that, the believers began meeting at the house of Mr. Chiang Yui for worship services. Later that year, officials summoned believers to their government offices and told them to cease worship services in a house. Incredulously, the officials told them, "If you want to hold worship services, you must hold them in a church building." Again, they ordered the believers to discontinue all expression of their religion. (But believers in this area remain faithful to their Christian faith and still assemble in Mr. Yui's house for worship services.)

Christians meeting in homes

Not long after that incident, five church leaders were arrested and imprisoned for refusing to comply with police orders to cease their acts of worshipping God. All five were carried away, as though criminals, and taken to the Lao prison in Dong Haen. Once there, they were placed in foot stocks. After the arrests, some of the police hung around in the village to keep an eye on the rest of the believers. When the police heard singing, they went into the home again and arrested another male believer, Sisompu. They took him away to the prison too.

Perhaps the authorities agreed that this harassment was sufficient, but whatever their reason, they released the leaders unharmed two days later. The five were asked to pay 350,000 kps (or approximately $42.00) to the district police authorities (without receipt). This fine was to offset the "expenses related to the arrest."

As you may remember, early last year Christian communities from several villages were evicted from their homes. They were forced to move to the Ban Mai village in the Burikan district of Borikhamxay.

Later the same year, authorities ordered the closedown of Bain Mai and relocation of all believers to yet another location, on the basis of governing "efficiency." The 40-plus Christian households were responsible for their own cost of moving, including rebuilding their homes. The new location was officially named Nonsomboon. Because these believers were not permitted to move their church with them from Ban Mai, they decided to build a new church building in Nonsomboon. A small church made from bamboo, leaves, and mud was constructed in one day.

Modest churches like this one are under threat.

Not surprisingly, police authorities then summoned four of the church leaders to a meeting in the Burikan District Office. The leaders were detained for four days. However, the Christians were allowed to submit a written request to conduct a Christmas program in Nonsomboon. While their request was being considered, they proceeded with the program plans. They even invited Burikan officials as their honored guests.

The Christmas program proceeded (albeit on January 7, 2009) with the Provincial Religious Affairs' official, and other officials, attending. It probably came as little surprise though, when the district police, sub-district police, and village police, charged into the church ordering the program be stopped.

Throughout Laos, there are similar stories of meetings, accusations, bullying, and indictments. Concessions are sometimes made on behalf of the Christians, but they are generally short-lived. In some cases, martyrdom has been the outcome for believers standing up to the continual persecution. Christian Aid is grateful for the faithful supporters who have made commitments to these believers who are constantly re-establishing their lives. Pray they stand firm in their faith as they evangelize Laos under such precarious circumstances.

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