By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)– Dozens of Christian villagers in southern Laos face expulsion from their homes and death threats Friday, March 21, because they refuse to abandon their faith in Jesus Christ, friends told BosNewsLife.
Despite the threats, three families have “joined the Christian faith”, following the example of five families who were already blacklisted by local authorities in Natahall village, in the Phin District of Savannakhet Province, said Human Rights Watch for Lao Religous Freedom (HRWLRF).
The HRWLRF, which supports the local believers, told BosNewsLife that the eight Christian families were summoned last week by the village chief and regional police “who want to stop the spread of Christianity.”
During the four-hour meeting on March 11, officials reportedly jeered the Natahall Christians, saying they should turn away from their Christian faith. Officials reportedly said the Christians are believing in a foreign
“We fought to rid of the Americans before and now you are leading their religion into our homes,” authorities said, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
“Christian residents of Natahall village are fighting hard to keep their homes as well as their constitutionally guaranteed right to believe in the Christian faith. They have appealed to the Phin District religious affairs [officials] to intervene.”
Officials did not yet intervene Friday, March 21. Troubles began in December when the five initially targeted families were reportedly told by the village chief, police and religious affairs officials that they would be “personally responsible for any death coming upon Natahall villagers”.
Local officials, including village chief Mr. Amka, were overheard saying that “believing in God violated the village’s longstanding spirit beliefs and customs.”
In Laos locals often use one name.
HRWLRF said the families threatened with eviction included three families of four of “Mr. A-boun, Mr. Lahaw and Mr. Bountun” as well as a family of 10 people of “Mr. Sorn” and that of “Mrs. Achak, a family of two.”
The three recently converted families were also believed to have been blacklisted by authorities.
“The village chief was prepared to issue legal documents for relocating Christians to other Christian communities in the province,” the HRWLRF said.
The group said it has urged the Lao government “to respect the right of the Lao people to religious freedom and the accompanying right to gather for worship as guaranteed in the Lao constitution and the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Laos in 2009.”
The latest stand-off comes amid wider concerns among Christians and activists about a perceived crackdown on Christianity in the impoverished Communist-run nation, where several believers have reportedly been killed and tortured in recent years.
“One of the five remaining Marxist-Leninist countries in the world, Christians in Laos face opposition both
from the Communist party, who consider them to be ‘foreign agents’, and from local Buddhist leaders, who believe that Laos and Buddhism belong inextricably together and want to keep their country ‘pure’,” observed advocacy Open Doors in a recent report.
“Christians, particularly from tribal areas, are arrested, detained and pressured to renounce their faith. Some are even killed,” the group added.
Conducting church activities require government permission, but the government rarely gives consent, according to several Christian sources.
Only a limited number of registered Christian congregations are allowed to have services in the heavily Buddhist Asian nation 6.4 million people, with just roughly 170,000 Christians.
President Choummaly Sayasone is under pressure to allow more freedom in Laos, which ranks 21 on the annual World Watch List of Open Doors of 50 countries where it says Christians experience the “worst persecution.”