Lao Authorities Arrest Christians for Evangelizing

by | Jul 27, 2011 | Charisma Archive

lao_deitiesAuthorities in
a village in northern Laos have ordered all Christian residents to
cease meeting for worship in private homes following the arrest of four
Christians on July 10, rights advocates said.

Also on July
10, police arrested a Christian in Luang Prabang Province, ordering him
to abandon his faith or face imprisonment, according to a statement
from the advocacy group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom.

In Luang Namtha Province, Pastor Seng Aroun of
Kon church in Namtha district, and three other Christians from Sounya
village church identified only as Souchiad, Naikwang and Kofa had met at
Kofa’s house for Sunday worship on July 10, HRWLRF reported. Kofa had
also asked them for advice regarding a vehicle accident in May in which
he had unwittingly caused the death of another person.

After
the service, provincial authorities arrested all four men and detained
them at Luang Namtha’s provincial prison. On July 13 they released all
but Pastor Aroun, who remained in detention at press time, and ordered
all Christians in Sounya village to cease meeting in private homes for
worship, according to HRWLRF.

Christians in Sounya village
have faced opposition from authorities since the initial conversion of
some 400 residents in 2002. Since then police have conducted three waves
of arrests of core church leaders. In 2009, two truckloads of police
and military personnel tore down the Sounya church building, and
authorities banned Christians from gathering for worship.

In
2010, the Christians began meeting occasionally in small groups. By
January they were once again able to meet in private homes for Sunday
worship, HRWLRF reported, but that limited freedom has now been removed.

‘Spreading a Foreign Religion’
In
Luang Prabang Province, police on July 10 approached Vong Veu, a
Christian resident of Pookong village, and ordered him to abandon his
faith and return to traditional spirit worship or animism. When Veu
refused, officers arrested him and detained him without trial at
Viengkham district prison, where he remained at press time, HRWLRF
reported.

In March a group of new Christians in Pookong had
asked Abee Weng, an elder of Fasouk Church in Luang Prabang city, to
assist them in practicing the faith. Weng, along with three other church
members identified only as Pachua, Boulevang and Kae, came to Pookong
on March 28 and instructed the new converts to burn or destroy items
associated with spirit worship, according to HRWLRF.

District
police arrested Weng and his assistants as they returned home on March
29 and charged them with “spreading a foreign religion and eradicating
Lao traditional religion,” though Weng asserted that he had not
converted the group but had simply responded to their request for
instruction. Police then held the men at Viengkham district prison
until, four days later, provincial religious affairs and police officers
intervened and secured their release, HRWLRF reported.

As
the former ancient capital of Laos, the city of Luang Prabang is a World
Heritage site. In the early 1990s officials heavily persecuted
Christians in the surrounding province under the pretext of “preserving”
that heritage. More recently the provincial religious affairs office
has publicly relaxed its policies, but district officials have
maintained their oppression of those who follow non-traditional
religions, particularly Christianity.

In Udomsai Province,
HRWLRF has also drawn attention to the case of 58-year-old Bounchan
Kanthavong of Vanghai village, who is nearing the end of a 12-year
prison sentence issued in 1999 following his conversion to Christianity
and bold preaching of the faith. In April, Kanthavong told his wife,
Sengkham, during a prison visit that officials recently said they were
willing to release him if he renounced the Christian faith and separated
from her; Sengkham is now the leading figure in Vangsai village’s
Protestant church.

Kanthavong warned Sengkham just days
before his arrest in June 1999 that officials were likely to seize him
because of his Christian activities; shortly thereafter they arrested
him, but on charges of “treason and sedition.” An investigation by his
wife and others revealed that the charges were based on Kanthavong’s
participation in a Bible training seminar and on his leading role in the
conversion of at least 70 people to Christianity. These actions
allegedly made them answerable to a “foreign power” instead of the Lao
authorities.

Following Kanthavong’s arrest, his wife took
over leadership of the small Christian community, which today has grown
to over 3,000 people.

HRWLRF has urged the Lao government
to reconsider Kanthavong’s conviction and release him immediately on
grounds that his exercise of religious freedom in 1999 was guaranteed by
the Lao constitution and should not have been deemed an act of treason
or sedition.

Wanna and Yohan
In
Khammouan Province, pastors Wanna and Yohan, both identified only by a
single name, also remain behind bars despite an eight-point appeal by
the Center for Public Policy Analysis in Washington, D.C. and a
coalition of international NGOs in March, just prior to the ninth Lao
Communist Party Congress. Only Wanna is specifically named in the
statement.

“We are appealing to the Lao government to
immediately release Pastor Wanna and others who seek political reform
and religious freedom in Laos,” one of the signatories, Bounthanh
Rathigna, president of the United League for Democracy in Laos, said in a
press statement.

The fourth point of the appeal called for
the government to “cease religious freedom violations, persecution and
harassment of independent Laotian and Hmong Christian, Animist and
Buddhist believers, including Laotian Christian Pastor Wanna, who has
been repeatedly arrested and beaten along with other Lao Christian
believers.”

Arrested on Jan. 4, Wanna and Yohan along with
eight other Christians, including two children, were officially charged
with “gathering for the purpose of creating turbulent unrest.”

Both
Wanna and Yohan’s children have faced abuse and rejection from other
children in their villages due to their fathers’ detentions, according
to a spokesman from HRWLRF.

The spokesman said Wanna is no longer in solitary confinement.

“At
the beginning he was in solitary confinement, but now he’s living among
the others, and he’s being let out to get some air,” the spokesman told
Compass. Due to weakness possibly caused by malnutrition, he said, “a
doctor is also treating him with antibiotics, glucose and saline through
an intravenous drip in the prison.”

The
chief of Nakoon village has also visited Wanna’s wife, Champa, and
advised her and her children to reject Christ–counsel she has firmly
ignored, the spokesman said.

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