Lao Officials Arrest 11 Christians at Gunpoint

Three leaders remain in prison; Christians in three villages forced to renounce their faith.

DUBLIN, January 6 (CDN) — Following the arrest of 11 Christians at gunpoint on Tuesday (Jan. 4), three house church leaders remain behind bars for “holding a secret meeting,” according to advocacy group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).

Lao authorities today released six of the house church Christians, including two children ages 4 and 8, from Khammouan Provincial Prison, central Laos. Two other men were released yesterday (Jan. 5).

The charge against the three church leaders is a political offense punishable by law, HRWLRF said. It identified the three men only by their given names as Pastor Wanna from Nakoon village church, Chanlai from Tonglar village church and Kan from nearby Nahin village church, all in Hinboun district, Khammouan Province.

The other eight Christians initially arrested were identified as Sompon, his wife and two children, along with a man identified only as Wantorn, all from the capital, Vientiane; Bounma and Kay from Nakoon village church, and Pastor Sipan from Dongthai church in Takkek district, Khammouan Province.

Authorities first detained the 11 Christians at gunpoint on Tuesday (Jan. 4) after they gathered at Wanna’s home for delayed Christmas celebrations, according to HRWLRF.

In December, Wanna informed authorities that church members would gather at his home on Wednesday (Jan. 5) to celebrate Christmas, in line with official celebrations by the government-approved Lao Evangelical Church scheduled between Dec. 5 and Jan. 15.

A truckload of district police officers with guns cocked and ready to shoot burst into Wanna’s house after dark on Tuesday (Jan. 4) shouting, “Stop! Nobody move!” They then forcibly detained the 11 who were quietly sharing an evening meal and charged them with conducting a “secret meeting” without approval.

Police officers released two of the Christians yesterday (Jan. 5) and moved the remaining nine to Khammouan Provincial Prison. A further six, including Sompon’s wife and children, were released today, leaving only three key leaders from Khammouan house churches behind bars.

HRWLRF has called for urgent advocacy for the three, on the grounds that officials have charged them with a political offense that may lead to harsh prison terms.


Oppression, Re-Education, Imprisonment

Oppression in Hinboun district, Khammouan Province began in earnest after residents of three villages professed faith in Christ, according to HRWLRF.

In 2008 a handful of Christians began meeting at Wanna’s house in Nakoon village. By 2009 the number had grown to 105 people, or 25families. During that time, local officials repeatedly interrogated Wanna, threatening him with arrest and imprisonment if he did not renounce his faith and cease encouraging others to believe in God.

Wanna, however, continued to hold meetings at his home until officials arrested and imprisoned him last May. Authorities then rounded up the church members and subjected them to several days of re-education, informing them that, “We have fought the Americans for many years, and now you are being deceived and caught by their traps.”

The Christians were then forced to sign documents renouncing their faith.

After releasing Wanna in October, officials warned him to practice his faith in private and hold no further meetings at his home. Wanna ignored these warnings, and several families joined him for Sunday worship services.

In December, Wanna informed village authorities that the church would hold Christmas celebrations at his home on Jan. 5, in line with plans by the official Evangelical Church of Laos to hold Christmas celebrations between Dec. 5 and Jan. 15.

Another Christian, Chanlai (also known as Yohan), began sharing his faith in 2008 with the residents of Tonglar village, some five kilometers (nearly three miles) away from Nakoon. By 2009, a total of 15 families had professed faith and began worshiping in Chanlai’s home. Authorities arrested Chanlai along with Wanna last May, charging Chanlai with influencing residents to believe in God and holding worship meetings in his home.

Following Chanlai’s arrest, officials detained the other 14 families for a day of re-education and forced them to sign documents renouncing their faith.

In October, when Chanlai and Wanna were released, authorities warned Chanlai that he should desist from holding worship meetings or “be killed.”

Another house church was established in 2008 in nearby Nahin village, around five kilometers (nearly three miles) from Nakoon village, with 10 families or 58 Christians meeting at the home of church leader Kan.

Nahin village authorities early last year subjected the Christians to five days of re-education, announcing that, “Whoever believes in the Christian faith is caught in the trap of the enemy!” They also declared that worship meetings were considered to be “secret meetings,” a term with political connotations punishable by law.

Under great duress, five families or a total of 27 Christians in Nahin then signed documents renouncing their faith; the others refused, but they refrained from meeting together for fear of further punishment until Wanna was released last October.

Report from Compass Direct News


Verdict suggests Algerian government could be softening crackdown on Christians.

ISTANBUL, October 29 (Compass Direct News) – A court in northwestern Algeria today acquitted three Christians charged with blaspheming Islam and threatening a member of their congregation who re-converted to Islam.

The acquittal was announced in a court at Ain El-Turck, 15 kilometers (nine miles) west of the coastal city of Oran. The defendants believe the judge’s decision to acquit was due to the spurious evidence used against them.

The acquittal also comes as part of a larger trend of the Algerian government bowing to negative international media attention and government condemnations of such cases, they said.

Defendant Youssef Ourahmane said that as a result, a recent government crackdown against evangelical Christians has eased off in recent months.

“We had noticed the last four or five months the government is trying to back down a little bit,” Ourahmane said. “I think the pressure on them has been strong, such as condemnations from the U.S. and foreign ministries from France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Spain. This pressure from outside has embarrassed the Algerian government very much.”

Algerian courts have handed several suspended sentences to local evangelicals in the last year under a recent presidential decree that prohibits proselytizing Muslims. No Christian, however, has served prison time on religious charges.

Ourahmane, Rachid Muhammad Essaghir, and a third man were charged in February with “blaspheming the name of the Prophet [Muhammad] and Islam” and threatening the life of a man who claimed to have converted to Christianity but who “returned” to Islam when his fundamentalist ties were exposed.

The first hearing of the three men took place on Oct. 21 in Ain El-Turck. A lawyer appointed by the Ministry of Religion also joined the hearing and surprised the defendants by supporting their plight.

The lawyer affirmed the rights of religious minorities such as Christians in Algeria. The Christians present said she would like the case to be closed.

A prosecutor in the case had sought three years of prison for the three men and a fine of 50,000 dinars (653 euros) for each.

Taking the stand last week, the three men were asked whether they had blasphemed Muhammad and threatened Shamouma Al-Aid, the convert and plaintiff. Al-Aid had professed Christianity from July 2004 through July 2006, when he attended a church near Oran. It was there that he met the Christians, against whom he later filed the blasphemy complaint.

Essaghir, an evangelist and church elder for a small community of Muslim converts to Christianity in Tiaret, has been one of the most targeted Christians in Algeria.

In the last year he has received three sentences, one for blasphemy and two for evangelism. Police stopped Essaghir and another man in June 2007 while transporting Christian literature. As a result they were convicted in absentia in November 2007 and given a two-year sentence and 5,000-euro fines. The Protestants requested a retrial, and the charges were dropped at a hearing in June.

Asked if he could explain why he and other Christians were under fire by Islamists, he told Compass that Muslims felt menaced by the existence of Christianity and its rise in Algeria.

“We are attacked because Muslims feel threatened by us,” said Essaghir. “There are many people who are coming to Christ.”

When the three accused Christians met Al-Aid, he claimed that his family was persecuting him, so they took him in to their church community. But in 2006 the Christians learned that Al-Aid in fact had links with Islamic fundamentalists.

After excommunicating Al-Aid, in October 2007 the three Christians were summoned by police when Al-Aid registered his complaint that they had insulted Muhammad and Islam and threatened his life.

“But the accusations against us are unfounded,” Essaghir told Compass last week by phone. “There is no proof, but we are being condemned because there is no justice.”

Ourahmane said that Al-Aid had shown the police text messages to support his claims, but that police said the number had not been registered with telecommunications services.

With their fresh acquittal, the three Christians could open a case against Al-Aid for bringing a case against them based on spurious evidence, according to Algerian law.

Instead, they want to offer their forgiveness, Ourahmane said.

“We have decided to forgive him and will communicate we are all ready to help him if he needs any help,” he said. “We are in touch with him through one of our team members, and if he is thirsty or hungry we are more than happy to help.”


Pressure on Algeria’s Church

The three acquitted men are just a few of the Algerian Christians who have come under legal heat in a wave of trials this year against the country’s tiny evangelical church.

Habiba Kouider, facing a three-year sentence after police stopped her while she was carrying several Christian books, has been kicked out of her family’s home. Kouider’s brothers learned about her conversion to Christianity after her case sparked national and international media attention.

In most cases the Christians have been charged under a presidential decree from February 2006 that restricts religious worship to government-approved buildings. The decree, known as Ordinance 06-03, also outlaws any attempt to convert Muslims to another faith.

The international community has been vocal about the Algerian government’s stance toward Christians. On June 6, some 30 U.S. congressmen sent a letter to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

They addressed human rights violations resulting from Ordinance 06-03, which has resulted in the closures of churches and criminal charges against Christians.

Algeria’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but loose terminology in its penal code – such as Article 144, which calls for up to five years of prison for “anyone who offends the Prophet and denigrates the tenets of Islam” – has allowed judges to give Islamic practice the force of law.

On Sept. 29 six men in Biskra, 420 kilometers (260 miles) south of Algiers, were sentenced to four years of prison for eating in public before sunset during the month of Ramadan, according to Algerian national daily Liberte. Muslims are required to abstain from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset during this 30-day period.

An Oct. 6 editorial in Algerian daily El Watan lamented the decision as proof that religious rights were eroding in Algeria.

“The divine law itself does not provide for severe penalties, and even the Taliban regime is not as strict,” said editorial writer Reda Bekkat. “One can imagine a judge tomorrow questioning people [who were] walking on the streets at the hour of prayer because they are not at the mosque.”  

Report from Compass Direct News


1. Origin

We are rational beings; and, as such, the desire of knowledge is natural to us. In early childhood, as each new object of interest comes under our notice, we ask, who made it; and as we advance in years, the same inquisitiveness attends us, and prompts us to investigate the sources of knowledge which are ever opening before us. Brutes may look with indifference on the works of God, and tread under foot the productions of human ingenuity, without inquiry into their origin; but rational men cannot act thus without violence to the first principles of their nature. Among the objects which have occupied a large space in human thought, and which claim our consideration, the BIBLE stands conspicuous. Its antiquity; the veneration in which it has been held, and continues to be held, by a large part of mankind; and the influence which it has manifestly exerted on their conduct and happiness, are sufficient, if not to awaken higher emotions, at least to attract our curiosity, and excite a desire to know its origin and true character.

We are moral beings. The Bible comes to us as a rule of conduct. The claim which is set up for it is, that it is the highest standard of morals, admitting no appeal from its decisions. We are, therefore, under the strongest obligations to examine the foundation of this claim.

We are, if the Bible is true, immortal beings. Heathen philosophers have conjectured that man may be immortal; and infidels have professed to believe it; but, if we exclude the Bible, we have no means of certain knowledge on this point. Yet it is a matter of the utmost importance. If we are immortal, we have interests beyond the grave which infinitely transcend all our interests in the present life. What folly, then, it is, to reject the only source of information on this momentous subject! Besides if we have such interests in a future world, we have no means of knowing how to secure them, except from the Bible. Shall we throw this book from us, and trust to vain conjecture, on questions in which our all is involved? it would be folly and madness.

Let us then inquire, whence came the Bible? Is it from heaven, or from men? If it is from men, is it the work of good men, or of bad men?

If bad men had been the authors of the Bible, they would have made it to their liking. If made to please them, it would please other men of like character. But it is not a book in which bad men delight. They hate it. Its precepts are too holy; its doctrines too pure; its denunciations against all manner of iniquity too terrible. It is not at all written according to the taste of such men. There are men who prize the Bible; who pore over its pages with delight; who have recourse to it in all their perplexities and sorrows; who seek its counsels to guide them, and its instructions to make them wise; who esteem its words more than gold, and feast on them as their sweetest food. But who are these men? They are those who detest all deceit and falsehood, and whom this very book has transformed, from men of iniquity and vice, to men of purity and holiness. It is impossible, therefore, that the Bible should be the work of bad men.

It remains that the Bible must be either from heaven or from good men. So pure a stream cannot proceed from a corrupt fountain. If it be from good men, they will not willfully deceive us. Let us, then, look to the account which they have given of its origin: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” 1. “The things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.” 2. “And so we have the prophetic word more firm, to which ye do well to take heed, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the morning star arise in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of private invention. For never, at any time, was prophecy brought by the will of man, but the holy men of God spake, being moved by the Holy Ghost.” 3.

It may, perhaps, be objected to the use of these quotations, that we permit the Bible to speak for itself; but this is no unprecedented procedure. If a stranger were passing through our neighborhood, and we were desirous to know whence he came, it would not be unnatural to propose the inquiry to the man himself. If there were about him marks of honesty and simplicity of character, and if, after our most careful investigations, it should appear that he has no evil design to accomplish, and no interest to promote by deceiving us, we should rely on the information we derive from him. Such a stranger is the Bible; and why may we not rely on its testimony concerning itself? Nay, it is not a stranger. Though claiming a heavenly origin, it has long dwelt on earth, and gone in and out among us, a familiar companion. We have been accustomed to hear its words; and have known them to be tried with every suspicion, and every scrutiny, and no falsehood has been detected. More, it has been among us as a teacher of truth and sincerity; and truth and sincerity have abounded just in proportion as its teachings have been heeded. Old men of deceit have shrunk from its probings, and trembled at its threatenings; and young men have been taught by it to put away all lying and hypocrisy. Can it be that the Bible itself is a deceiver and impostor? Impossible! It must be, what it claims to be, a book from heaven – the Book of God.


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NOTE: This article is part of John L. Dagg’s ‘A Treatise on Christian Doctrine.’ This book is available at: