Six Hmong Christian families have been forced to leave their village in central Laos after refusing to renounce their faith, according to a fellow member of their ethnic group and friend to the families.
The six families, consisting of 25 people, were made to leave their homes in Borikhamxay province’s Khamkeut district because they would not revert to animism as practiced by the majority of residents in their Ko Hai village, the source recently told RFA’s Lao Service.
“After they converted to Christianity, the local authorities became unhappy and ordered them to revert back to animism, but they refused,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
According to the source, authorities detained two men from among the families in July and held them for nearly a month after they refused to renounce Christianity.
“Once they were released the authorities again tried to force them to believe in animism, but they still refused, so they were forced to leave their homes,” he said.
Two of the Christian families were evicted from Ko Hai on Aug. 27, while the other four were sent away on Sept. 18, he added.
All six families resettled in Khamkeut’s Hoi Keo village, located near the town of Lak Sao, the source said.
He said that the 62-year-old patriarch of one of the families died shortly after arriving in Hoi Keo, suggesting that the stress of being forced from his ancestral home was responsible for his death.
“[The Christian families] want to return to their homes because they are poor and don’t have enough money to resettle in the new location,” the source said.
“They already had a home, land, and a farm in their old village.”
The governor of Khamkeut district claimed to have no knowledge of the forced eviction, but vowed to investigate.
“We have not received any reports about this, but we will look into it and ask the local authorities,” the governor, who gave his name as Thongsam, told RFA.
According to the friend of the evicted families, seven other ethnic Hmongs—including a 14-year-old boy—were arrested in northwestern Laos’ Luang Namtha province on Nov. 2 after they converted from animism to Christianity.
He said five of the Christians were released after signing a pledge to renounce their faith, but that two others had refused and were to be transferred to the provincial prison.
A security officer from Luang Namtha’s Long district, which administers Kang Daeng village where the seven Hmongs live, denied that authorities had arrested the Christians.
But he told RFA that the seven had been taken in for questioning and a “consultation” on their behavior, which he said included fighting with other village residents.
“[They] have disturbed the social peace, argued, and gone on rampages, so we brought them in for a consultation—we didn’t arrest them.
The Lao constitution provides for freedom of religion but stipulates that the state should play an active role in managing the country's religious affairs.
Christians are a small minority in the Buddhist-majority country, where Roman Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Bahai’s, and followers of Confucianism constitute less than 3 percent of the population, according to the U.S. State Department’s annual report on global religious freedom.
In some provinces in Laos local authorities are suspicious of non-Buddhist religious groups, and sometimes minority groups’ refusal to participate in Buddhist or animist religious ceremonies produces tension in local communities, according to the report.
In March, six Christian families left their Buddhist-majority village in Savannakhet province following what rights groups said were threats of eviction if they did not renounce their faith, though local authorities said the families had left of their own accord to avoid conflict with other residents.
Lao authorities have also long been wary of opposition among the Hmong, many of whom say they face persecution from the government because of their Vietnam War-era ties with the United States.
Thousands of Hmong fought under CIA advisers during a so-called “secret war” against communists in Laos.
General Vang Pao, who spearheaded the 15-year CIA-sponsored war, died in the United States in 2011 at the age of 81.
The outspoken opponent of the Lao government immigrated to the United States after the communists seized power in his country in 1975.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Bounchanh Mouangkham. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.