(ADDS COMMENTS HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIAL)
By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)-- Lao authorities have detained five Christians who attended a Christian worship service Sunday, March 25, in southern Laos amid a crackdown on Christianity in the region, representatives told BosNewsLife.
They are held on charges of "leading religious movements without official approval,” said the Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF), which is in close contact with the growing house church movement in the area.
HRWLRF told BosNewsLife that the Christians were detained Sunday afternoon local time during the church service in Boukham village, located in Ad-Sapangthong district of Savannakhet Province.
The Christians were two men, identified as Phosee and Viengsai, both from nearby Phosai village, and three women, Alee from Phosai village, Poon from Pone village, and Narm from Natoo village. In Laos locals often use only one name.
OTHERS "AT RISK"
Other Christian worship attendees are "also at risk" to be detained on charges of violating religious regulations, the group said.
The five were reportedly moved to the same detention facility that Boukham village authorities used to detain church leaders earlier this year.
At least seven Christian leaders were detained and tortured for nearly a month in the same region before being released, though concerns have remained about "the confiscation" of church buildings said HRWLRF Director Sirikoon Prasertsee.
"It appears that this is a part of wider crackdown on the spread or growth of Christianity in Savannakhet province. Christianity has been growing in this part of Laos," he told BosNewsLife.
HRWLRF said it has urged the Lao government "to respect the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief in worship as guaranteed by the Lao constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as ratified by the Lao government."
There was no immediate reaction from Lao officials.
Analysts say Christianity in Laos is generally perceived as a Western ideology that challenges the ruling Communist establishment.
"It is obvious that the Lao authorities are trying to put a stop to the Christian faith regardless if Lao citizens have the freedom to adopt Christianity, " Prasertsee added.
There about 200,000 devoted Christians in the Communist-run Asian nation, where most of the 6.4 million people are Buddhists, according to Christian estimates.