New reports show officials continue to fine believers, outlaw private worship
DUBLIN, August 28 (Compass Direct News) – The chief of Boukham village in Savannakhet province, Laos today ordered the families of three detained Christians to sign documents renouncing their faith. Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reported that the family members refused.
A crackdown in other parts of Laos continued, with new incidents reported this week in Attapue and Borikhamxay provinces. On Monday (August 25), the chief of Donphai village in Attapue province summoned believers and fined them for holding a church service during local animistic ceremonies.
In Borikhamxay province, officials continued to pressure 22 Christian families comprising 150 people in Toongpankham village who have refused to give up their faith. Village officials had torn down their church building in January, then in mid-August harassed church members for not meeting in a proper worship facility.
In the incident in Boukham village in Savannakhet province, the chief summoned the families of two detained Christians, identified by the single names of Boot and Khamsavan, and ordered them to travel to the police station where the two were being held to sign affidavits renouncing their faith; the family members refused, according to HRWLRF.
Police detained Boot and Khamsavan, along with their pastor Sompong, on August 3. (See Compass Direct News, “Authorities in Laos Detain 90 Christians,” August 8.)
The family members had already traveled to Ad-Sapangthong police station on Sunday (August 24) to visit Boot, Khamsavan and Sompong. When they arrived at the detainment cell at that time, officials tightened the handcuffs and wooden stocks restraining the hands and feet of the prisoners, causing severe pain.
“This is the consequence of not signing documents to renounce your faith,” a police official told the visitors. “We’ve already given you three opportunities to do this, but you have refused.”
On Monday (August 25), after the visitors returned home, the village chief instructed them to immediately apply for bail for Boot and Khamsavan but said Sompong did not qualify for it, as his punishment for leading the church would be “life in prison.”
Fine Imposed for Worshiping
In Donphai village, Sanamchai district of Attapue province, the village chief summoned Christians on Monday (August 25) and fined them for holding a worship service the previous day while villagers carried out animistic ceremonies.
The village chief charged them with violating his order to refrain from worship that particular day and imposed a fine of 700,000 Lao kip (US$83), one pig, and a pot of rice wine. He also said the church would be held responsible if any of the villagers became ill as the result of “spirits” being offended by their worship.
At press time the Christians had refused to pay the penalty, despite threats of more serious consequences if they failed to do so. They have also decided to continue their weekly worship services, in accordance with freedoms guaranteed in the Lao constitution.
In Toongpankham village, Burikan district of Borikhamxay province, officials in mid-August scolded 22 Christian families – a total of 150 people – for holding church services in a private home.
Summoning church leaders to a meeting at government offices, officials demanded that they meet in a church building. The Christians asked how this was possible, since officials had torn down their church building in January. When they sought permission to rebuild, officials refused.
According to HRWLRF, believers have since continued to meet in the home of church member Chiang Yui, determined to express their freedom of worship as provided in the Lao constitution.
Report from Compass Direct News