By BosNewsLife Asia Service
VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)-- Several Christian families in southern Laos face imminent expulsion from their homes if they refuse to recant their faith in Jesus Christ, an advocacy group assisting them told BosNewsLife Tuesday, August 8.
Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) said all "five Christian families" comprising some 40 people "were again summoned" by authorities to "a village meeting" in Nahoukou village located in the Utumpon District of Savannakhet Province.
During Tuesday's gathering at village headquarters, which was also attended by all non-Christian villagers, the village chief and other officials "publicly condemned Lao Christians...for embracing the Christian faith, which is considered a 'foreign religion', HRWLRF explained.
The authorities "ordered all five families of Lao Christians to recant of their Christian faith or face eviction from the village" during the meeting the well-informed group added in a statement to BosNewsLife.
"Furthermore, officials ordered that Christians no longer gather in homes to exercise their Christian faith" while "village officials suggested that physical harms would come upon the Christians if they did not recant," the group added.
However a local Christian leader reportedly made clear they do not want to give up their faith.
On Monday, June 6, village church Tongkoun Keohavong apparently told a separate meeting with officials at the village headquarters that "starting from February 2012 over thirty Lao villagers have exercised their religious freedom and embraced the Christian faith on their own due to their experience."
He reportedly said that they experienced "God's miraculous power of healing from evil spirits' power and sickness."
Since then, he added, they "gathered weekly for worship in homes," according to Christians familiar with the conversation.
Christians have linked the reported crackdown to concern among officials about the growth of Christianity in the village and elsewhere in Communist-run Laos, known for religions such as Buddhism, Brahmanism, and spirit worship.
There have also been reports of expulsion and detentions of Christians in other regions of Laos. I
In June, for instance, Lao authorities jailed four Christians, including two Thai citizens, in northern Laos after they were caught explaining
the Bible to at least one Lao man, their supporters told BosNewsLife at the time.
HRWLRF said it has urged the "Lao government to respect the right of the Lao people to religious freedom—to adhere to any religion of choice as guaranteed under the Lao constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights" which was ratified by Laos.
The government should "immediately reverse any verbal or written order or threat issued by village authorities that contradicts the Lao constitution or international convention," the group added.
There was no immediate response from officials and it the fate of the Christian villagers remained unclear. Laos is one of Asia's poorest nations, with local Christians and others struggling to survive in especially the many jungle villages.