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Lao Officials Confiscate a 37-Year-Old Church Building

February 24, 2012

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (February 24, 2012) - The following information from Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) was sent by a Christian Aid-assisted indigenous ministry impacted by current developments in Laos:

Lao Officials Unlawfully Confiscated a 37-Year-Old Church Building
Kengweng Village, Saybuli District, Savannakhet Province, Laos

On February 21-22, 2012, a group of 4-5 Saybuli district officials travelled to Kengweng village and conducted a seminar entitled "Tricks of the Enemy." Officials and villagers of Kengweng were asked to join the seminar. At the end of the seminar, on February 22 at around 4:00 p.m., district officials summarized the teaching sessions and ordered the confiscation of the Kengweng church building and prohibited Christians from using it, which went into effect immediately. The confiscation of Kengweng Church took place in less than two months after officials confiscated Nadaeng Church in the same district.

Christians only recognized three of the district officials who ordered the confiscation, namely: (1) Mr. Saysamorn, Saybuli district communist party committee member; (2) Mr. Bountha, Saybuli district religious affairs; and, (3) Captain Saysana, Saybuli district deputy chief of police. The officials further instructed that if Christians wanted to use the church building, they must submit a formal written request to village-level, district-level, and provincial officials and be approved by each of the three levels.

The church in Kengweng village began in 1972 with two Christian Lao families. In 1975, Christians in Kengweng built their church building and have been using it for church gatherings until today (February 22, 2012), when it was confiscated by officials. Presently, Kengweng village has 25 Christian families, consisting of 178 individual believers.

Presently there are thirty churches with church buildings throughout Savannakhet province and only seven of these are recognized by the authorities. The remaining are considered illegal. Now that three of them (Nadaeng church building, Dongpaiwan church building, and Kengweng church building) have been confiscated, the remaining twenty-two church buildings are at risk of also being confiscated by Lao authorities at any time.

Although religious freedom and religious assembly to practice one’s religion are guaranteed by the Lao Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as ratified by the Lao government, authorities have refused to recognize the existence of Christians and churches in Savannakhet province other than seven. Furthermore, by confiscating the Kengweng church building, which was officially built 37 years ago in 1975, government officials have unlawfully possessed another’s property, punishable by law.

The HRWLRF urges the Lao government to respect the Lao constitution, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as ratified by the Lao government, and recognize Kengweng Church and their right to exist, as well as to grant freedom to believe in any religion and assemble in order to practice their religious beliefs. Furthermore, the HRWLRF encourages the Lao government to return the Kengweng church building to the Christians so that they can enjoy religious freedom, as guaranteed to them.

Pray that the believers in Laos will be greatly encouraged by our Lord Jesus Christ and that these government officials will open their hearts to the gospel. Pray that God will give wisdom to these believers as they cope with this situation. For more information about the situation in Laos, see: www.hrwlrf.net/

For more information about indigenous missions in Laos or to provide financial assistance to believers in Laos, contact Christian Aid at info@christianaid.org.

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