Officials crack down in three provinces; some believers held in wooden stocks.
DUBLIN, August 8 (Compass Direct News) – Authorities in Laos have detained or arrested at least 90 Christians in three provinces in recent weeks, including an arrest last Sunday (Aug. 3) of a pastor and two other believers from a house church in Boukham village, Savannakhet province.
Arrests were reported in the southern provinces of Saravan and Savannakhet and in Luang Prabang province in the north.
In one incident on July 21, Compass sources said officials detained 80 Christians in Katin village, in the Tah Oih district of Saravan province, after residents seized a Christian neighbor identified only as Pew and poured rice wine down his throat. The wine flooded his lungs and killed him, according to the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
When mourning family members buried him – an immediate necessity because of the warm climate – and put a wooden cross on the grave, village officials accused them of “practicing the rituals of the enemy of the state” and seized a buffalo and pig from the family as a fine.
A few days later, on July 25, officials rounded up 17 of the 20 Christian families in the village – a total of 80 men, women and children – and detained them in a local school compound, denying them food for three days in an attempt to force the adults to sign documents renouncing their faith.
Three other Christian families in the village had already renounced their faith under increasing pressure from authorities, according to a report from Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
As their children grew weaker, 10 families signed the documents and on July 30 were allowed to return home. The remaining seven families, however, were evicted from the village and have since settled in an open field outside the village, building small shelters and surviving on food found in the nearby jungle.
Arrests in Boukham
The most recent arrests occurred last Sunday (August 3) in Boukham village, Savannakhet. Officials arrested a leader of a house church identified only as Pastor Sompong, during a Sunday worship service at his home, along with two young people identified only as Boot and Khamvan.
HRWLRF reported they were detained at an area police station. On August 2, authorities arrested another villager in Boukham, identified only as Menoy, charging her with “believing in Jesus and worshiping God.”
They handcuffed Menoy and took her to a prison in Ad-Sapangthong district, where she joined two other believers, identified as Kantalee and Loong Peng, who had been arrested the previous day and charged with the same religious offense.
Authorities had previously arrested Pastor Sompong and four other believers from the Boukham church on July 20, detaining them for two days in a prison in nearby Dong Haen. Police stormed into the church that Sunday and ordered the 63 Christians present to cease worshiping or they would face arrest and imprisonment for “believing and worshiping God.”
When the Christians refused to comply, stating that Sunday was a Christian holy day and they must continue worshiping, the police arrested Pastor Sompong and two other church leaders identified only as Kai and Phuphet.
While some of the officers handcuffed the three church leaders and took them to a prison in Dong Haen, other policemen stayed in the village. When the service continued, police entered the house again and arrested a man identified only as Sisompu.
When the believers again failed to cease worshiping, police arrested a 17-year-old girl, identified only as Kunkham, who was actively leading the group. All five Christians were detained in Dong Haen prison with their feet secured in wooden stocks.
Officials charged the five with spreading the gospel and holding a religious meeting without permission. Although the Lao constitution “guarantees” freedom of religion and worship, church fellowships must be registered with government-approved institutions. Such registration comes with strict limitations on the activity of the church, however, and many Christians prefer not to register.
On July 22, three Christians approached the provincial religious affairs office in Savannakhet to challenge the arrest of Pastor Sompong and his fellow church members, asking how the five Christians could be charged for “spreading the gospel” during a worship service.
Officials then released the five on condition that they would cease holding worship meetings. They ordered them to seek permission from village authorities if they wanted to continue meeting together.
Elsewhere, in late July authorities in Saiphuthong district of Savannakhet summoned the pastor of a church in Nachan village and questioned him about the increasing number of villagers who had elected to believe in God.
Compass sources also reported that officials on July 27 detained a family of Hmong Christians in northern Luang Prabang province.
More arrests were reported, but details have yet to be confirmed.
Report from Compass Direct News