Thursday, March 15, 2012

Laos: Christians threatened -- recant or leave

-- a call to pray for the Church in Laos

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 150 
Special to ASSIST News Service

Lao Christians threatened to be
 expelled from village, activists say, the
 latest in a series of reported anti-
Christian incidents targeting churches
 and individuals in the Communist
AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- Laos is a Communist-ruled South-east Asian state known for its abysmal human rights record, particularly its appalling prison conditions and systematic use of torture. 

Christians in this poor, landlocked nation face intensive persecution. Generally the religious persecution occurs outside the main cities, targets the already marginalised and persecuted ethnic minorities and is committed by belligerent and corrupt local officials. In Laos, religious liberty exists in theory but not in practice. Article 30 of the Laos Constitution states: 'Lao citizens have the right and freedom to believe or not to believe in religions.' 

However, the Prime Minister's 2002 Decree on Religious Practice (Decree 92) renders religious liberty illusory by mandating that religious activities first be approved by the village, district and regional authorities.

Furthermore, Decree 92 and Article 9 of the Constitution prohibit activities that could cause 'chaos' or 'social division'. Lao Communists oppose the growth of Protestant Christianity amongst the ethnic minorities, viewing it as part of a US conspiracy to destroy social cohesion and challenge Communist rule. Meanwhile, ethnic minority groups with a tradition of ancestor worship oppose Christianity, fearing reprisals from offended ancestral spirits. Denial of services (educational, medical, sanitation), imprisonments, forced renunciations of faith (using threats and torture) and expulsions are the main means employed against Christians by Communist officials determined to maintain control over a harmonious society. In January 2010 eleven Christian families consisting of 48 believers were expelled at gunpoint from Katin village in Ta-Oih district, Saravan Province, southern Laos, simply on account of their faith. Over the course of the year several other families, moved by the Christians' witness, decided to follow Christ and were also expelled. These believers have suffered greatly, losing everything they owned, with some even dying in the bush. They are slowly re-establishing themselves but life is hard.
(For background see RLPB blog label: Laos )

On 2 March 2012 Khamla, the only known Christian in the whole of Viengphuka district in Luang Namtha Province, was summoned to meet with Lao officials at their headquarters. Khamla had recently converted to Christianity after being miraculously healed from a long-term disease in answer to the prayers of believers from another district. After rebuking and interrogating Khamla, the authorities gave him an ultimatum: recant or leave Dongvieng village by 7 March. 

Local authorities are reportedly determined to keep Christianity out of Viengphuka district. No update on Khamla is available.

On 18 February local authorities in Pakoo district of Luangprabang Province issued an expulsion order against ten Christian families. The families, comprising some 65 believers, were given until 18 March to either recant their faith or leave Hueygong village. Eight of the ten families became Christian only three months ago, but without the permission of the Pakoo district chief, a district religious affairs official and the secretary of the Communist party's regional branch. Head of religious affairs of Luangprabang Province, Mr Bousee Chantuma, has reportedly intervened and is seeking a reversal of the expulsion order on the grounds that it is illegal as provincial religious affairs are supposed to be under his jurisdiction. Whether he is protesting injustice or procedural irregularity is unclear. Not all officials are prepared to use force against Christians who stand their ground. In mid-January local authorities threatened to expel 14 Christian families, comprising over 80 believers, from Hueysell village in Ngoi district, also in Luangprabang Province, unless they recanted their faith. Standing firm in faith, the believers held their ground and while the authorities continue to threaten and intimidate, as yet they have not used force against them.

(For breaking news and reports see Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom - HRWLRF)

  • bless his faithful Church in Laos, protecting them wherever they are, meeting all their spiritual, emotional and physical needs.
  • redeem this suffering, using the arising witness to fan flickers of faith into a revival that transforms communities: may there be a spiritual awakening in Laos that liberates tribal animists driven by fear of ancestral spirits; Lao Buddhists driven by fear into legalism and ritual; and spiritually empty Communists driven by atheism into meaninglessness, selfishness and cruelty.
  • bring unity and solidarity to the body of Christ in Laos, so that registered (state-approved) religious groups will not be ashamed of those who are suffering on account of Christ's name. May they have strength and courage from the Holy Spirit to support their brothers and sisters who are suffering. 'By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.' (John 13:35 ESV)

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. This prayer bulletin was initially written for the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (AEA RLC).

Elizabeth Kendal's blogs:
Religious Liberty Monitoring and Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

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