LAOS: POLICE DESTROY CHURCH BUILDING IN VILLAGE


Destruction carried out while Christians attend compulsory village meeting.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, March 30 (Compass Direct News) – Police in Borikhamxay province, Laos, on March 19 destroyed a church building in Nonsomboon village while Christian residents attended a meeting called by district officials.

A member of the provincial religious affairs department, identified only as Bounlerm, has since claimed that police destroyed the worship facility because it was built without official approval.

Tension between the Christians and local authorities escalated last year when officials ordered at least 40 Christian families living in Ban Mai village to relocate some 20 kilometers (12 miles) to Nonsomboon for “administrative reasons,” according to advocacy group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF). Local sources said the forced relocation to Nonsomboon village was an effort to control the activities of Christians in Ban Mai who were sharing their faith with other people in the district.

Previously authorities had evicted Christians from several other villages in the district and relocated them to Ban Mai village, HRWLRF reported. Families were expected to cover their own relocation expenses, including the cost of rebuilding their homes and re-establishing their livelihoods.

Initially residents refused to relocate a second time, largely because officials would not grant permission to move their existing church building or to erect a new structure in Nonsomboon. Eventually they were forced to move to Nonsomboon under duress.

Lacking worship facilities, the villagers on Dec. 10, 2008 erected a simple church building. On Dec. 26, village police removed the cross from the building, summoned four key church leaders to a meeting at the Burikan district office and subsequently detained them for building a church without government approval.

HRWLRF identified the four only as pastor Bounlard, assistant pastor Khampeuy, church elder Khampon and men’s ministry leader Jer. When the wives of the four men brought food to them during their detention, officials refused to allow them to see their husbands.

In a meeting on Dec. 27 between provincial religious affairs officials and church leaders, officials said police had arrested the Christians because they refused to tear down the church building. A senior religious affairs official identified only as Booppa, however, agreed to release the Christians on Dec. 29.

The Christians of Nonsomboon then applied for permission to hold a Christmas service in their church facility on Jan. 7 and invited religious affairs official Bounlerm to attend. When permission failed to arrive in time, they conducted the service regardless, with Bounlerm and other district officials attending as honorary guests.

During the service, district and village level police officers charged into the building and ordered church members to cease worshiping. Bounlerm encouraged the congregation to follow orders from the local officials.

Police officers then drafted a document ordering church members to abandon the Christmas celebration and demanded that the congregation sign it. When they refused, the police insisted that they disband the meeting immediately. After leaving the building, the congregation traveled to nearby Burikan town and set up a tent in an open field next to a government office in order to complete the Christmas service, as there were no church facilities in Burikan.

A campaign of intimidation followed, according to HRWLRF, culminating in the destruction of the church building by village police on March 19. At press time, no information was available on the content of the meeting called by district officials on that day.

Report from Compass Direct News

Advertisements

LAOS: CHRISTIANS ORDERED TO RENOUNCE FAITH


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