By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)– Authorities in central Laos have detained a Christian leader and a fellow believer for “spreading Christian religion” as part of a wider crackdown on evangelical Christians in the Asian nation, a well-informed Christian rights group said.
Human Rights Watcher for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) told BosNewsLife that two men were arrested by five police officers who “stormed the home” of a Christian believer in Nong-hang village in the Khounkham district of Khammouane province.
Those detained in the noon raid on September 2 were identified as 43-year-old Christian leader Bountheung Phetsomphone, from Nongpong village in Khemkhert district of Borikhamsai province, and Neuy, 40, from nearby Khounkham village in Khounkham district of Khammouane province.
The troubles reportedly began when Phetsomphone visited Neuy and both men visited a Christian family of five in Nong-hang village, about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from Khounkham village. “After encouraging and praying for the Christian family, both men began having lunch with the host family. It was then that the five police officers stormed the house and arrested Mr. Bountheung and Mr. Neuy,” HRWLRF said.
The Nong-hang village chief and the sub-district Communist party secretary allegedly reported the two Christians to local police. Authorities did not immediately comment, but BosNewsLife has established that Christian village churches are among those targeted in the Communist-run Asian nation.
Khounkham district police have been monitoring the growth of Christianity in the area since 2008 and intended to “suppress” it, according to rights investigators.
Bountheung was already targeted in Nongpong village in May 2012 when 300 Lao people “joined the Christian faith after observing his life,” Christians said. Bountheung was previously detained and jailed for his faith on August 20, 2012, but was later released, rights activists said.
Neuy has also been persecuted starting in 2008 when Hinboon district police reportedly began a crackdown aimed at eradicating Christianity from the area, raiding house churches and detaining Christian leaders, the advocacy group explained.
The latest reported incident comes several months after the People’s Court of Savannakhet province convicted five Christians of “being quack doctors” and sentenced them to 9 months in prison and a fine of $62 each after they prayed for a Christian who later died. The Court further ordered them to pay an additional fine of $2,450 to the deceased family, a huge amount in impoverished Laos.
HRWLRF said it has urged the Lao government to immediately release the Christians and “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.”
Christians comprise roughly 1.5 percent of the predominantly Buddhist nation of about 7 million, which has a Communist government, according to official estimates.
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