By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)– Protestant Christians in a southern village of Laos were without a church building Good Friday, after Lao officials closed it down following similar raids on other churches in the area, a well-informed investigator told BosNewsLife.
The takeover of the Khamnonsung Church in Khamnonsung village “is the fourth Lao church shutdown by district officials in Savannakhet province,” said Sirikoon Prasertsee, director of Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
Earlier the same authorities “confiscated” churches in three locations in the Saybuli district of Savannakhet province including the Kengweng Church, which was closed down in February, Christian rights activists explained.
Last year, officials reportedly took over the Nadaeng Church in December and Dongpaiwan Church in September.
The latest raid on the 49-year-old Khamnonsung Church happened late Thursday, April 5, by officials who were said to have attended a three-day political seminar this week in the village.
All villagers were also required to participate in the gathering, which included discussion topics such as “tricks of the enemy”, Christians explained.
“Lao officials referred to Western powers, particularly the Americans, using the Christian faith as tricks to destabilize the present political system of Laos,” a Communist-run Asian nation, HRWLRF added.
It said since Thursday, April 5, “Lao officials are only allowing [local] Christians to meet for worship in homes, but not in the church building.”
Authorities have reportedly defended the action saying Christian villagers “did not have permission to build the Khamnonsung Church” adding that “only one church is recognized in the area,” identified as the Dongpong Village Church.
Christians anticipate that other unrecognized churches will also be taken over.
In remarks distributed by HRWLRF local church leaders said Savannakhet’s governor and provincial chief of religious affairs were behind the takeover of all four churches in the area, “with the latest one being Khamnonsung church comprising of 136 families, some 745 individual believers.”
HRWLRF called the move “unlawful” as the current government “only came to power in 1975, which was 12 years after Khamnonsung church building was built” under previous existing legislation.
Lao believers in the area were also pressured to “recant their faith” in 2000 and 2002, Christians said.
Christian groups estimate there are some 200,000 devoted Christians in the mainly Buddhist country of 6.4 million people, where especially village churches report growth.