By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)– A pastor and six other Christians remained detained in southern Laos early Monday, September 29, after security forces raided their house church as part of a wider crackdown on Christianity in the area, supporters told BosNewsLife.
The chief of Boukham village in Savannakhet Province along local security officials and police “arrested Pastor Sompong Supatto and six other Christian believers,” said Sirikoon Prasertsee, director of Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
He said the Christians were detained Sunday, September 29, after the morning worship service when believers were gathering for lunch. “All seven are being detained at the Boukham village
Prasertsee, whose advocacy group represents Christians in the area, noted that Pastor Sompong “is being held in handcuffs and leg stocks,” a painful method that rights activists say is often used by Lao authorities to control inmates.
The other six believers were so far detained without handcuffs and leg stocks, Prasertsee added.
They were identified as women Manivanh, 60, Chai, 56, and Anna, 50, and men Chanthanarm, 18, and Neal, 21, from Phosai village in the provincial Palansai district
Another Christian was identified as Petsamone, 40, from Changseng village in the same district of Savannakhet province. Lao villagers often use just one name to identify themselves.
Prasertsee said the latest arrests came after village officials had issued warnings a week earlier that Christians were no longer allowed to gather for worship in Boukham village. Christians had been assembling for regular worship in Boukham village for some four years, according to HRWLRF investigators.
He said the HRWLRF has urged the Lao government “to respect the right of the Lao people to religious freedom and the accompanying rights as guaranteed in the Lao constitution and the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Laos in 2009.”
Additionally, the HRWLRF asked the Lao leadership “to punish the Boukham village chief and other village officials who acted illegally to arrest these seven Christians” and demanded their “immediate release”.
The latest reported crackdown followed several similar incidents in recent months in the Communist-led Asian nation.
Church activities require government permission, but Christians claim authorities rarely give consent, as part of efforts to control faith groups and religion, BosNewsLife established.
Only a limited number of registered Christian congregations are allowed to operate in this heavily Buddhist nation of nearly 7 million people, according to Christians and activists.