LAOS: OFFICIALS ANNOUNCE BAN ON CHRISTIANITY IN VILLAGE


Chief warns Christians to worship only local spirits or lose homes.

DUBLIN, July 16 (Compass Direct News) – Following the confiscation of livestock from Christian families earlier this month, officials in a village in Laos on Saturday (July 11) called a special meeting for all residents and announced that they had “banned the Christian faith in our village.”

The chief of Katin village, along with village security, social and religious affairs officials, warned all 53 Christian residents that they should revert to worshiping local spirits in accordance with Lao tradition or risk losing all village rights and privileges – including their livestock and homes, according to advocacy group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).

The Katin village leader also declared that spirit worship was the only acceptable form of worship in the community, HRWLRF reported. Katin village is in Ta Oih district, Saravan Province.

The previous Sunday (July 5), officials and residents confiscated one pig each from nine Christian families and slaughtered the animals in an effort to force them to renounce their faith. Officials said the seizure of the pigs – each worth the equivalent of six weeks’ salary for an average laborer in the area – was punishment for ignoring the order to abandon Christianity. (See “Officials Seize, Slaughter Christians’ Livestock,” July 10.)

According to HRWLRF, the chief’s order clearly contravened Article 6 and Article 30 of the Lao Constitution, which guarantees the right of Christians and other religious minorities to practice the religion of their choice without discrimination or penalty.

In addition, HRWLRF stated that Katin officials had violated Article 53 of the 2003 Law on Local Administration, which requires them to abide by the constitution and other laws and to provide for the safety and well-being of all people living under their care.

Officials in Katin have a history of ignoring constitutional religious freedoms. 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 in the jungle.

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.

Report from Compass Direct News

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LAOS: OFFICIALS SEIZE, SLAUGHTER CHRISTIANS’ LIVESTOCK


Animals confiscated as punishment for converting to Christianity.

DUBLIN, July 10 (Compass Direct News) – Last Sunday (July 5) officials and residents of Katin village in Ta Oih district, Saravan province, Laos, confiscated and slaughtered livestock belonging to nine Christian families in an effort to force them to renounce their faith.

In June village elders had warned the families, 53 people in total, to renounce the faith they had adopted in late May or face “serious consequences,” according to advocacy group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).

When the Christians ignored this warning and attended worship services in a neighboring village, villagers broke into their pig pens and seized one pig per family, later slaughtering the animals and distributing the meat among themselves, according to HRWLRF.

Officials said the seizure of the pigs – each worth the equivalent of six weeks’ salary for an average laborer in the area – was a form of punishment for ignoring the order to abandon Christianity.

The slaughter followed a similar “punishment” meted out last September, when 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, distributing the meat to non-Christian residents. (See “Christians Pressured to Renounce Faith,” Sept. 18, 2008.)

Claiming to act on behalf of district authorities, village officials then said they would continue to seize livestock from Christian villagers until they either renounced their faith or none of their animals remained.

Four days earlier, on Sept. 8, provincial and district authorities had held a meeting in the village, claiming the Lao central government had ordered them to do so in response to international inquiries about religious freedom abuses in the village. Officials talked to leaders and residents about a 2002 religious freedom decree and asked all parties to respect the religious laws of the nation.

A spokesman from HRWLRF this week said he believed there was no legal justification for Katin officials to confiscate personal property. Traditionally, however, many Lao believe that if fellow villagers cease worshiping territorial spirits, the spirits will take offense and an animal sacrifice must be made to appease them.

Long-standing Religious Abuse

Officials in Katin have long ignored religious freedom provisions. Almost a year ago, on July 21, officials detained 80 Christians in the village after residents seized a believer 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 food found in the nearby jungle.

Report from Compass Direct News 

LAOS: OFFICIALS RELEASE CHRISTIANS FROM STOCKS


Restrictions on worship still in force in village.

DUBLIN, November 17 (Compass Direct News) – Lao officials have released three prisoners from Boukham village, Savannakhet province, after several weeks of detention, but restrictions on Christian worship in the village are still in force.

Pastor Sompong Supatto, 32, and two other believers, Boot Chanthaleuxay, 18, and Khamvan Chanthaleuxay, also 18, were released on Oct. 16 against the wishes of the village chief, who had threatened to hand Supatto a life sentence at a maximum-security prison. Village officials remain hostile to the presence of Christians, according to Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).

Authorities initially arrested Supatto and four other believers on July 20, storming their house church and ordering the 63 Christians present to cease worshiping or face arrest and imprisonment for “believing and worshiping God.” The five were briefly detained after the raid and released on condition that they would cease holding worship meetings.

Police targeted the believers because their church was not officially registered. Because such registration comes with strict limitations on church activities, many Christians prefer not to register.

When they continued to gather for worship, police arrested Supatto and two members of the Chanthaleuxay family on Aug. 3, detaining them in handcuffs and wooden foot-stocks in the nearby Ad-Sapangthong district police detention cell. Police initially said they would not release the men until they renounced their faith, HRWLRF reported.

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.” Days later, the chief again pressured family members to sign documents renouncing their faith to secure the teenagers’ release, but they refused.

In September, the chief of Boukham village called a special community meeting to resolve the “problem” of eight resident Christian families who refused to give up their faith. Normally all adults would attend these meetings but on this occasion Christians were excluded.

The meeting ended with plans to expel all 55 Christians from the village; at press time, however, no expulsion had taken place, according to Compass sources.

Following the prisoners’ release, credited to international advocacy efforts, Boukham Christians began traveling to other house churches in the district for worship, but they hoped to resume services in their own community if restrictions were lifted.

 

Still Worshiping in Another Village, Despite Threats

Christians from Katin village, Saravan province, have continued to meet together despite threats from local authorities.

Officials on July 21 detained 80 Christians in the village after residents seized one believer, identified only as Pew, and poured rice wine down his throat, killing him by asphyxiation. When family members buried him and placed a wooden cross on the 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.

They also threatened other Christians with confiscation of livestock if they did not give up their faith, a significant threat as farm animals are essential to the agrarian lifestyle of the villagers and are expensive to replace.

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 school compound, denying them food in an effort to force the adults to sign documents renouncing their faith. The remaining three families 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 food found in the nearby jungle.  

Report from Compass Direct News

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

LAOS: AUTHORITIES DETAIN 90 CHRISTIANS


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