Community decides to resolve ‘problem’ of families refusing to recant faith.
DUBLIN, September 25 (Compass Direct News) – The chief of Boukham village in Savannakhet province, Laos, on Friday (Sept. 19) called a special community meeting to resolve the “problem” of eight resident Christian families who have refused to give up their faith. The meeting concluded with plans to expel all 55 Christians from the village.
Although all adult members of a village are usually invited to such meetings, on this occasion the Christians were deliberately excluded, according to rights group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
Pastor Sompong Supatto, 32, and two other believers from the village, Boot Chanthaleuxay, 18, and Khamvan Chanthaleuxay, also 18, remain in detention in the nearby Ad-Sapangthong district police detention cell. HRWLRF earlier reported that police have held the men in handcuffs and wooden foot stocks since their arrest on Aug. 3, causing numbness and infection in their legs and feet due to lack of blood circulation. (See Compass Direct News, “Lao Christians Pressured to Renounce Faith.” Sept. 18.)
Authorities have said they will release the three only if they renounce their faith.
Pressure to Renounce Faith
When family members traveled to visit the detainees on Aug. 24, police officers deliberately tightened their restraints and told the families that this was the consequence of not renouncing their faith.
On Aug. 25, the village chief encouraged family members to apply for bail for the two teenagers but said Supatto did not qualify for bail, as his punishment for leading the Boukham church would be “life in prison.”
Three days later, the chief again pressured family members to sign documents renouncing their faith, but they refused.
Authorities initially arrested Supatto and four other believers from the Boukham church on July 20, detaining them for two days in a prison in nearby Dong Haen, according to HRWLRF sources.
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 Supatto and two other church leaders identified only as Kai and Phuphet.
When the believers continued worshiping, police arrested a man identified only as Sisompu and a 17-year-old girl identified only as Kunkham. They detained all five in Dong Haen prison and charged them 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 arrests, asking how the five could be charged for “spreading the gospel” during a church 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.
When the Christians continued to gather for prayer and worship, officials on Aug. 2 arrested a Christian villager identified only as Menoy, charging her with “believing in Jesus and worshiping God.”
The arrests of Supatto and two members of the Chanthaleuxay family followed on Aug. 3.
Report from Compass Direct News