By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)– An evangelical pastor has been killed in northern Laos by a policeman and four others who opposed his evangelism and church activities, relatives and rights activists say.
Five unidentified men reportedly entered Pastor Singkeaw Wongkongpheng’s home September 8 in Na-ang village in Luang Prabang province where they first “grabbed” his wife, Christians said. “When she called out for help, Pastor Singkeaw came to her rescue,” Christians explained.
The pastor was then attacked by a police officer who was publicly identified as Mr. Wansai. Pastor Singkeaw asked the attacker if he needed money, but Wansai responded by saying he was “a secret police and he came to take the life of Pastor Singkeaw and nothing else,” said the Human Rights Watcher for Lao Religous Freedom (HRWLRF) group.
“When Pastor Singkeaw called out for help, Mr. Wansai stabbed him three times in the back” the group said. Hearing his father’s cries, Pastor Singkdeaw’s son, Manh, pursued the policeman and severely injured him, according to HRWLRF investigators.
The pastor did not survive the attack; Wansai is being treated in a hospital in Luang Prabang province,reports say. Christians said it was later revealed that Wansai is a Luang Prabang provincial policeman serving as a prison guard in Pha-Oh Prison.
Local Christians in Luang Prabang said the five men involved in the attack apparently planned to abduct Pastor Singkeaw and his wife and then dispose of them similar to a previous case in Luang Namtha province where a Christian pastor and his wife disappeared years ago and were never found.
Local Christians ruled out robbery as a possible motivation for what HRWLRF said was a “ruthless and cold-blooded murder.”
“They believe that his death was the direct result of his Christian faith and ministry of spreading that faith,” he group told BosNewsLife.
Pastor Singkeaw served as the pastor of the 58-member Na-ang Church in Na-ang village. Christians visiting the congregation come from both Na-ang village and Hueytat village in the same district. A local Christian leader reportedly called Pastor Singkeaw “a good law abiding citizen who kept a simple life with very little materialistically.”
His troubles began during what rights activists called”great religious persecution”against Christians in Luang Prabang province in 1997 to 2002 when Lao officials began cracking down on Christians in his area.
Orders were given that no Christians be allowed to spread the Christian faith in Chomphet district and other districts in the province. However, Pastor Singkeaw ignored the orders and continued evangelism and founded the church in 2000. Lao officials ordered Pastor Singkeaw to cease evangelism, but he ignored the order and continued spreading the Christian faith to five villages, HRWLRF said.
“His strong stance on practicing his constitutionally guaranteed religious right in holding and spreading his Christian faith was…finally met with his cruel death at the hands of those who oppose him.”
The pastor leaves behind his wife, Daeng and six children, including four boys and two girls, BosNewsLife learned.
Christians have urged the Lao government to investigate the death of Pastor Singkeaw and bring justice to his family and church as well as “to hold the police officer and four other unidentified attackers responsible for their cruel and cold-blooded murder.”
The HRWLRF said it was crucial that the Lao government respects 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.
Lao officials have denied human rights abuses against minorities.