Lao Officials Force Christians from Worship at Gunpoint

Church members marched to open field, deprived of homes.

LOS ANGELES, February 8 (CDN) — About 100 local officials, police and villagers put guns to the heads of Christians during their Sunday morning service in a village in Laos last month, forcing them from their worship and homes, according to an advocacy organization.

Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reported that in Katin village of Ta-Oyl district, Saravan Province, Lao authorities including the village chief, a religious affairs’ official, three district police and a 15-man volunteer unit joined 15 village police officers to force all 48 Christian adults and children of the church to an open field. 

Afterward, the officials confiscated all personal belongings from 11 homes of Christians and destroyed six of the 11 homes. They also confiscated a pig – equal to six weeks’ salary to the villagers – that belonged to one of the members of the congregation, according to HRWLRF.

Unable to cajole the Christians into renouncing Christ with the illegal use of arms, the officials forced them to walk six kilometers (nearly four miles) and then left them on the side of a road.

“While being forced with guns to their heads, the believers took only the personal belongings they could grab,” according to an HRWLRF statement.

Since then, officials have posted local police at the entrance of Katin village in order to keep the Christians from returning. The men, women and children of the church have been sleeping on the ground in the woods with hardly enough food supplies, equipment, or tools to survive, according to HRWLRF.

“They are without light, food and clean water, except for a small stream nearby,” the organization reported.

Laos is a Communist country that is 1.5 percent Christian and 67 percent Buddhist, with the remainder unspecified. Article 6 and Article 30 of the Lao Constitution guarantee the right of Christians and other religious minorities to practice the religion of their choice without discrimination or penalty.

Around Jan. 18, a Saravan provincial religious affairs official identified only by his surname, Khampuey, and a Ta-Oyl district official identified only by the surname of Bounma tried to persuade the believers to renounce their Christian faith, according to the organization.

Why do you believe in it [the Bible]?” they asked the Christians. “It’s just a book.”

When the Christians responded that the Bible was no mere book but a gift from God, the officials pointed out that other poor villagers had received government assistance because they had not converted to Christianity. They asked the church if, being Christians, they were receiving such government aid.

HRWLRF reported that the Christians responded that regardless of what help they did or didn’t receive, they had received new life from God.

“Before, we were under the power of the spirits and had to sacrifice to them,” said one Christian. “Now, having believed in God, we no longer have to do any sacrifice.”

The officials further harangued them, saying, “See what happens to you because of your belief? You are now left in the middle of nowhere without any home, food, or help. You should deny your Christian belief and then you will be allowed back in your village.” The officials added, according to HRWLRF, that all 56 villages in Ta-Oyl district did not want them to continue in their Christian faith.

“These villages have said that they can accept lepers and demon-possessed persons living among them, but they cannot allow believers residing among them,” one official reportedly told the Christians. “If they do not want you, neither do we.”

Unable to persuade the believers to renounce Christ, the two officials prohibited them from returning to their home village to get their personal belongings, including tools and items needed to make a living and protect themselves.

Although Laos ratified the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights in 2009, thus asserting that it fully respects human rights and religious freedom, its mistreatment of Lao Christians in Katin village has continued beyond the confiscation and slaughter of pigs belonging to each of the nine Christian families on July 5, 2009 and the withdrawal of protection for Christian villagers on July 11, HRWLRF reported.

The Katin village leader has declared that spirit worship is the only acceptable form of worship in the community, HRWLRF reported. In the July 5 slaughter of one pig each from nine Christian families, officials said it was punishment for ignoring an order to abandon Christianity.

Local officials have a longer history of trying to eradicate Christianity in Katin village. On July 21, 2008, officials detained 80 Christians in the village after residents seized a Christian identified only as Pew and poured rice wine down his throat, killing him by asphyxiation.

When family members buried Pew and placed a wooden cross on his grave, officials accused them of “practicing the rituals of the enemy of the state” and seized a buffalo and pig from them as a fine.

On July 25, 2008, officials rounded up 17 of the 20 Christian families then living in the village – a total of 80 men, women and children – and detained them in a school compound, denying them food in an effort to force the adults to sign documents renouncing their faith. The other three Christian families in the village at that time had already signed the documents under duress.

As their children grew weaker, 10 families signed the documents and were permitted to return home. The remaining seven families were evicted from the village and settled in an open field nearby, surviving on whatever food sources they could find.

Suffering from the loss of their property and livelihoods, however, the seven families eventually recanted their faith and moved back into the village. But over time, some of the Christians began gathering again for prayer and worship.

On Sept. 8, 2008, provincial and district authorities called a meeting in Katin village and asked local officials and residents to respect the religious laws of the nation. Four days later, however, village officials seized a buffalo worth approximately US$350 from a Christian resident identified only as Bounchu, telling him the animal would be returned only if he renounced his faith. When he refused, they slaughtered the animal in the village square and distributed the meat to non-Christian residents.

“These tactics of starvation and destruction of personal properties as well as the use of force employed by the Lao officials in order to put pressure on the Katin believers to renounce their religious convictions should be condemned,” according to HRWLRF.

In spite of the hostilities, more households accepted Christ in Katin village last year, resulting in to the current total of 11 Christian households.

Report from Compass Direct News 


Promise of negotiated settlement fades; Catholic leaders threatened with legal action.

HANOI, September 26 (Compass Direct News) – Authorities in Hanoi have responded to months of Catholic prayer vigils and demonstrations over disputed land by destroying the one-time residence of the papal nuncio in central Hanoi.

In suddenly bulldozing the land that once served as the Vatican embassy and residence near St. Joseph’s Cathedral last Friday (Sept. 19), the government broke its promise to Catholic leaders in February to negotiate a settlement concerning the property.

The destruction of the building held sacred by Catholics is the latest blow to Christians’ long struggle to get the government to return confiscated church properties. Catholic, Protestant and other religious leaders deemed the government response to peaceful Catholic pressure a serious setback for religious freedom.

Authorities cite Vietnamese law stipulating that lands subject to “land management and socialist land reform policies in place before 1991” cannot be considered.

On Monday (Sept. 22) the Vietnam News Agency reported that the Catholic Church ceded the Nha Chung Vatican Embassy property to the state in 1961 and that it would be turned into a library and park.

“Bookworms will soon be able to enjoy the facilities offered by a brand-new library, located at 42 Nha Chung Street, in Hoan Kiem District,” the state reported. “In addition to all of the services usually offered by a library, situated on the premises of an existing three-story, French-designed building surrounded by greenery and including a childrens’ playground, the renovation, which began last Friday, aims to better meet Hanoians’ demands for relaxation.”

Sources said Vietnam’s frequent pronouncements of new openness to religion, and the formation of a joint Catholic/government working committee regarding relationships with the Vatican and other outstanding matters, may have led Catholics to test the waters. Late last year Catholics began to hold prayer vigils outside the fence of the long-vacant Vatican Embassy seized by the government in the mid-1950s.

The historic building property on Nha Chung Street is adjacent to the Hanoi archbishop and cardinal’s residence and only a half block away from St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

The daily morning and evening prayer vigils began to draw large crowds, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, when thousands came to Masses at the cathedral. Authorities in a country where demonstrations are not allowed became seriously worried when warnings to stop went unheeded.

In discussion with Catholic leaders in late February, the government agreed to negotiate a settlement in good faith on the condition that Catholic leaders would call a halt to the prayer vigils. Archbishop of Hanoi Ngo Quang Kiet told Compass in April that after agreeing to a joint working committee, the government showed no sincerity in building relationships or in settling grievances.

In late August an aide to the archbishop told Compass in Hanoi that the twice daily prayer vigils had resumed. At that time about 100 people participated each time, but the number and intensity was growing. Catholic leaders made no secret of their appeal to prayer and assembled people as their only tools in their struggle with the government for redress on confiscated properties.

In recent weeks the Redemptorists at Thai Ha, also in Hanoi, also began prayer vigils to recover some of their large property. Over the years their part of an original plot of 60,000 square meters had been reduced by government confiscation to less than 2,000 square meters.

According to observers, the Catholics conducted themselves during their vigils with decorum and order as they reverently marched, prayed and sang. The government’s response however, quickly escalated from accusing the Catholics of interfering with traffic to accusing them of all night public disturbances – and then accusing Catholic leaders of inciting riots and breaking religion laws.


Catholic Leaders Warned

Authorities this week delivered a written warning to Archbishop Kiet warning him of “extreme action” if he did not stop the daily prayer vigils. They also issued a warning to four priests at a Hanoi church locked in the land dispute. The archbishop and priests are accused of “stirring the population” and encouraging illegal religious activity.

State and Hanoi city media releases and radio and TV coverage during September painted the Catholics in the worst possible light; sources said the media fabricated stories and paid people to speak against the Catholics. With no opportunity to make their side of the story known through Vietnam’s state-controlled media, Catholics are reporting events through VietCatholic News, Zenit and other overseas news sites.

Catholic calls for media to retract specific, demonstrably false stories and appeals to press laws have gone entirely unheeded. Rather, sources said, improbable accusations and vicious slander against Catholics sharply escalated.

Vietnam Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man, archbishop of Saigon, wrote a letter to all priests, religious and faithful on Monday (Sept. 22) denouncing the state’s media lies. Unrest is spreading throughout Vietnam’s Catholic community, believed to number more than 7 million, as the letter by the cardinal and others by bishops are read in the churches.


Thugs Bussed In

Demonstrations escalated this week with estimates of 7,000 to 10,000 people, including students gathered at Thai Ha on Wednesday night (Sept. 24). It was said to be the largest public demonstration since the Communist unification of Vietnam 33 years ago.

Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 24), hundreds of police and plainclothes officers tried to control an upset crowd of Catholics as a statue of the Virgin Mary was removed from the Vatican Embassy area under police protection and taken to an unknown location. The next day, sources said, authorities recruited gangs that included uniformed Communist youth league members and others and bussed them to the site, where they attacked Catholic protestors outside the archbishop’s residence.

Similar gangs destroyed property, including sacred items at Thai Ha, the same day.

The state media also announced that the 17,000-square meter Thai Ha Redemptorist property in Hanoi is also to be turned into a public park.

The reversion to old-style, default Communist repression involving violence cloaked in lies is also worrying to Vietnam’s Protestants, some of whom have joined Catholics in the prayer vigils.

Protestant leaders contacted by Compass were united in their disappointment in and condemnation of the government’s belligerent response to peaceful prayer vigils.

“Sadly, the government has again shown its true attitude toward religions,” said one Protestant leader. “We have doubted the sincerity of recent improvements, and now they have clearly shown everyone what is still in their hearts.”

Some Vietnam observers fear the government’s belligerence may be evidence of hard-liners’ ascendance in an ongoing struggle with more moderate reformers. The timing of this property destruction, some Vietnamese church leaders said, is calculated to take advantage of uncertainty in the United States, especially as elections draw near.  

Report from Compass Direct News


Recent Incidents of Persecution

Karnataka, September 17 (Compass Direct News) – A mob of about 300 people attacked and torched a Christian prayer hall on Sept. 7 in Bada village, Davangere district just after prayers concluded at about 9 a.m., according to the The Hindu. The assailants broke the asbestos ceiling and windows and set fire to material inside, including Bibles, a cross and a pulpit, the daily reported. A pastor identified only as Lukas E., who was at the site of the attack, described the attackers as “locals” but refused to name them. Police have registered a case, though the pastor said he did not wish to file charges against anyone because they were his “own people.” Villagers who accused the pastor of “converting the locals” by luring them with gifts and by “demeaning Hindu gods and religious customs” told the newspaper that the attack was “spontaneous.” A police official told Compass that 10 persons have been taken into custody. The incident occurred even as prohibitory orders were in force for an area within a 200-meter radius of three other prayer halls in Davangere town, which have been under attack since mid-August. The Hindu nationalist Hindu Jagarana Vedike had threatened to forcibly close down these “unauthorized places” if the district administration did not do so by Sept. 6, stated the daily.

Karnataka – Police on Sept. 6 arrested a pastor in Terekere, Chikmagalur district. Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said that on Aug. 31 nearly 40 Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists had disrupted Sunday worship of Emmanuel Church and threatened pastor C.S. John, warning him to hold no further Christian worship. On Sept. 6 nearly 25 intolerant Hindus came to Emmanuel Church, shouting anti-Christian slogans and making false conversions allegations against Pastor John. A GCIC representative told Compass that the Hindu extremists forced Pastor John to a local police station and filed a false complaint against him for “malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings,” and insulting a class of people’s religion or religious beliefs. With GCIC intervention, the pastor was released on bail on Sept. 8.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists on Aug. 31 stormed Sharon Church in Holalkere block of Chitradurga district, Karnataka beat the pastor, dragged believers out of Sunday worship and forcibly applied Kumkum red circles on their foreheads. As is customary in India, police were mute spectators. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that as pastor N. Kumar had finished preaching, nearly 25 intolerant Hindus led by area extremists identified only as Srinivas, Hanumantha and Basavaraj barged into the church shouting “Jai Bajrangi [Hail Lord Hanuman].” Armed with wooden clubs and saffron flags, the extremists slapped Pastor Kumar and made false accusations of forcible conversions. According to GCIC, the extremists threatened the assembly of around 35 believers that they had to convert to Hinduism or else be smacked with clubs. Grabbing him by his collar, the extremists dragged the pastor outside the church, other frightened believers were made to follow, and kumkum was applied to their foreheads. The believers were warned that they would be tonsured if they worshipped in Sharon Church again. The watching policemen then took Pastor Kumar to Hollakera police station. The GCIC brokered a compromise between the Hindu extremists and the church: Pastor Kumar did not file a complaint, and the extremists agreed not to harass the believers. Kumar was given first aid at Hollakera government hospital for a bleeding ear.

KarnatakaHindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists on Aug. 31 stormed Full Gospel Church at Sharavati Nagar, Old Hubli, beating a pastor and others and making false allegations of forced conversions. Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), reported that as worship was going on a group of nearly 30 extremists led by D. Kabadi, Jagadish Katti Satish and another person barged in shouting Hindu devotional chants, walked up to the dais and slapped and punched the Rev. David Perumal. When pastor Thankaraj Dhansingh rushed to the aid of Perumal, he too was repeatedly hit on his head and back. The Hindu extremists cursed congregants and chased them away. Police arrived and took Rev. Dhansingh and Perumal to the police station, with the intolerant Hindus following shouting anti-Christian slogans. With the GCIC’s intervention, a First Information Report was filed against the extremists, George said. Perumal was admitted to a medical clinic for treatment. At press time no arrests had been made.

Karnataka – About 30 Hindu extremists belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) on Aug. 24 handed over a pastor and 10 others to the Frazer town police station for preaching the gospel and pressured police to file a case against them in Bangalore. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the pastor, identified only as Nelson, and the 10 others were preaching and distributing gospel tracts in Doddigunta when the extremists began threatening them and took them to a police station, where they were arrested for “hurting religious sentiments,” statements conducive to public mischief and unlawful assembly. The Christians were released on bail after two days.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists on Aug. 27 disrupted a prayer convention, accused a pastor of forced conversions and beat him in Kala Bhavan, Gadag. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Hindu extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) disrupted the two day-prayer meeting held with prior police permission, brutally beat a pastor identified only as Santosh and dragged him to the police station. The extremists forced the pastor to give a written statement saying he would not conduct future prayer meetings or share the gospel with anyone. He was released after he was forced to submit a written statement to police. Again on Aug. 28, the intolerant Hindus threatened the pastor at his house, saying that they would burn him and his family if they did not leave the area within 24 hours. The pastor filed a police complaint. GCIC told Compass that a First Information Report was not filed, and that the two parties reached a compromise.

Karnataka – Police on Aug. 27 arrested a pastor on charges of hurting religious sentiments and “uttering words with intent to insult the religion of any class” after Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists filed a false complaint of forcible conversion against him in Arasikere, Hobli, Davangere. Dr. Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said that nearly 100 extremists belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bajrang Dal came by van to the Full Gospel Assembly Church. Pastor K.P. Rajshekar was not at the church building, and the Hindu extremists angrily asked four Christians identified only as Nagappa, Umesh, Yogaraju and Mallesha Naik, about allurements they supposedly received to convert to Christianity. Asha Devi, a GCIC representative, told Compass that the extremists also forced the four believers to the Yellamma Temple, smeared vermillion on their foreheads and made them bow to Hindu idols. “However, they have not renounced Jesus Christ,” Devi told Compass. As is customary in India, police jailed the victims of Hindu extremist aggression. At press time, the GCIC was seeking their release on bail. The extremists had also demanded that the four Christians provide details about the pastor and other families who worshiped there and subsequently went to Pastor Rajshekar’s house, dragged him out and shoved him into the van along with his wife Anapoorna and daughter Geetha. They took them to a police station and filed bogus charges of fraudulent conversion against the pastor and his family.

Karnataka – Police on Aug. 24 detained a pastor after Hindu extremists stormed an evangelistic meeting, attacking the pastor and bringing forth false witnesses to testify against him in Ramalingeshwara Camp, Koppal district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Pastor Jeeva Prakash of the Bethesda Prayer House was preaching at a gospel meeting in Ramalingeshwara Camp, where nearly 100 believers had congregated, when a mob led by two local extremists identified only as Virupakshappa and Giri of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh barged into the assembly shouting curses. They slapped Prakash and attempted to make him chant “Jai Sri Ram [Hail Lord Rama].” In spite of repeated hitting and punching on his stomach and head, Pastor Praskash staunchly refused to give in, at which point the extremists dragged the pastor and a few others to a police station, the report stated. GCIC regional coordinator Laxminarayan Gowda told Compass, “The extremists brought two persons identified only as Chinnappa and Lakshmamma, who falsely testified that Prakash had promised them money to attend the meeting.” With GCIC intervention, the pastor and believers were released at around 10:45 p.m. without being charged.

Orissa – Evangelist Prem Dan Khora was arrested on Aug. 22 after Hindu extremists belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) filed false complaints of “forcible” conversion and destruction of idols against him in Dasamantapur, Koraput district. According to the Global Council of Indian Christians, Khora was distributing gospel tracts in the area when Hindu extremists from the VHP were demonstrating against a commission set up to probe the December 2007 anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal district. The extremists snatched the tracts and thrashed him for nearly an hour, leaving him barely conscious. They dragged him to the police station, where he was arrested for “hurting religious sentiments” and trespassing. GCIC told Compass that the whereabouts of the evangelist remained unknown at press time.

Maharashtra – Kashinath Kadale, a tribal Christian laborer, was allegedly beaten and hanged to death by seven anti-Christian assailants from Jamblipada village in Thane district on Aug. 21, the national daily Times of India reported. At midnight the attackers barged into the house and thrashed the couple, with Kadale’s wife Tai escaping and returning hours later only to find her husband hanging from the roof. She filed a complaint with Jawahar police, saying they were sleeping in the house when they were attacked by seven unknown men. The Rev. Sanjiv Andrap, the village pastor, was quoted by Times of India as stating that the reason for the attack was that the villagers opposed Christian families and wanted them to leave the village. Over the last three years, on five occasions villagers had tried to evict the Christian families from the village, the daily reported. But the report stated that Inspector Rajendra Naik of the Jawahar police station said that the allegation made by the deceased’s wife was untrue, that the couple was drunk and “abused” the seven people who were going past their house. According to the police investigation, the seven people had an argument with the couple and later left. Abraham Mathai, vice-chairman of the minority commission told Compass that tribal peoples in the Thane area are constantly vulnerable to attacks from the local Hindu extremists.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists in Chikka Savananoor village, Gadag district on Aug. 20 beat an evangelist, made false accusations of forced conversion, dragged him to the village temple and tied him to a pillar to mock him. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Nagaraj Yellappa Limbuji, a private tutor who worships in Shalom Prayer Hall, was en route to work when a group of nearly 20 intolerant Hindus stopped him on the road and made false allegations of forcible conversions. The extremists slapped Limbuji before taking him to the village temple and tying him to one of the temple pillars. The GCIC’s Sajan K. George told Compass that the extremists kept him tied to the pillar for nearly one and a half hours, continuously mocking and cursing him. “One of the believers in the village informed the police, who arrived and set him free,” George said. “Limbuji has refused to register a complaint as he has forgiven the extremists.”

Andhra PradeshHindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Aug. 17 demolished the half-built Jesus Prayer House Church building in Uppal hills, Hyderabad. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that nearly 20 extremists led by Shekar Reddy marched towards the church structure under construction and, armed with iron rods, began harassing pastor David Raj, who was supervising construction. They made false accusations of forced conversion. Reddy also claimed that the land belonged to Hindus and that Christians had no right to worship or construct a church in the area. The intolerant Hindus shoved Raj to the ground and began demolishing the church building. Lion Francis, regional GCIC coordinator, told Compass that Pastor Raj filed a complaint at Uppal police station, but at press time no arrests had been made.

Uttarakhand – Six Christian workers and a Bible college student were beaten by a group of Hindu fanatics on India’s Independence day, Aug. 15, reports The Persecution Times. The mob became enraged after they saw Bible college student Rasul Sarvak passing out gospel literature with a team of other students from the college. When the mob attacked, the other students were able to escape, but Sarvak, the youngest in the team, was captured and beaten as the intolerant Hindus tried without success to force him to deny his faith in Jesus. “You are trying to make our country a Christian nation,” they yelled at him. They dragged Sarvak to the police station, where officers placed him in custody to protect him from the furious mob. Four Gospel for Asia (GFA) workers arrived at the police station for Sarvak’s release, but the fanatics stopped them outside and beat them at length in the presence of police. Two more GFA workers drove up to the police station and were also brutally attacked, with one of them suffering a severe eye injury. The mob vandalized the GFA vehicle and threw it in a ditch. They then turned to the vehicle used by the first group of GFA workers and tried to burn it, but police at last stopped them. The Hindu extremists left, and police transported Sarvak and the six GFA workers to another station to keep them safe. There, some local Christians came and filed paperwork, and the group was released.

Report from Compass Direct News