Laos Believers Face Evictions, Arrests in Struggle for Religious Freedom

February 25, 2013

Sakien´s hands shook as he held the eviction notice. Dong lowered her head and wept silent tears. The chief of their remote Laotian village angrily accused the couple of being troublemakers. He ordered them to pack their belongings and leave–immediately.

“Do not come back,” he warned them. “Chumpoy does not allow followers of the Christian religion. Find a place to live where there are Christians.”

Sakien, 52, and his wife, Dong, had no choice but to comply. Actually, they did have a choice. They could renounce their new faith in Jesus Christ.

But this couple refused to reject the Savior, even if that decision meant losing their home. After all, He had shown forth His loving kindness and performed a miracle of healing in their family.

The “trouble” started in December when Sakien´s son and daughter-in-law went to a church in Intee village seeking prayer for physical healing. The daughter-in-law had been suffering complications from childbirth. Members of the church prayed and God healed her. Later the young couple embraced the Christian faith. They traveled to Chumpoy village to share the exciting news with Sakien and Dong.

At the urging of the young couple, Sakien and Dong made the trip to Intee village and attended a worship service at the same church. Sakien came seeking physical healing for his poor health, but he left with a changed heart. Both he and Dong committed their lives to following Christ.

Less than two weeks later, the chief of their village in Chumpoy ordered Sakien and Dong to vacate their home. He demanded they leave Chumpoy because they were now followers of the Christian faith. They were no longer welcome in the village, he told them.

Currently Sakien and his wife are seeking refuge in Intee. They have been given temporary shelter in an unfinished church building that has no walls. Sakien is ill and needs medical treatment. He wants to return to his home in Chumpoy.

The Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) is calling on the government of Laos to allow Sakien and Dong to go back to their village. The advocacy group asserts that the couple´s religious rights should be respected and that the village chief should be prosecuted for illegally issuing an eviction order.

Although the Laos constitution is said to guarantee religious liberty for its citizens, Christians face ongoing persecution that is upheld and encouraged by the government. Churches and homes continue to be confiscated and destroyed. In some cases, as seen with Sakien and Dong, believers are banished from their villages and forbidden to return.

Another religious rights incident was reported February 5 when three Christian pastors were arrested and detained by police in Savannakhet province for “disseminating Christian religion,” according to the HRWLRF report. The pastors brought a DVD movie about the end times to a local shop to get copies made.

After making three copies, the owner of the shop and the pastors tested one of the DVDs. While they were viewing the movie, a policeman entered the shop and saw them. He contacted his superior who is in charge of criminal cases in the Phin district of Savannakhet province.

A police lieutenant and two deputies stormed the shop and arrested the three pastors. The shop owner was also taken to the police station for questioning but was released. The three pastors, however, remain jailed in the Phin district prison.

According to the report, the pastors told police they had three copies made so they could view the DVDs in their own homes. Authorities insisted their intent was to spread the Christian religion through distribution of the film.

The names and church affiliation of the three pastors are the following:

The HRWLRF is calling on the government of Laos to release the three pastors. In addition, they are asking the government to punish the Phin district police lieutenant and deputies for abusing power and causing Christians to suffer unjustly.

Christian Aid Mission works with ministry groups in Laos who plant house churches and meet the physical needs of displaced people like Sakien. Pastors in these small fellowships have requested Bibles and hymn books for their members.

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