Christians attacked, driven from their home in southern Laos

Villagers were angered by the family's practice of a 'foreign religion,' family members said.
2022.02.23
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Christians attacked, driven from their home in southern Laos Members of a Lao Christian family in Dong Savanh village, Savannakhet province, are shown in a February 2022 photo.
Citizen Journalist

Twelve members of a Christian family in southern Laos were attacked and driven from their home this month by villagers angered by the group’s practice of a “foreign religion,” family members and other sources said.

The attack was the latest in a string of similar assaults and legal moves against Christians in the one-party communist state with a mostly Buddhist population despite a national law protecting the free exercise of their faith.

The Feb. 9 attack in Savannakhet province’s Dong Savanh village in which the family home was burned down followed an earlier attack on the funeral of the family’s father, his widow Seng Aloun — now the family head — told RFA on Monday.

“My husband died on Dec. 4 last year, and we took his body to the village cemetery two days later, but the villagers wouldn’t allow us to bury him there. They struck his coffin with wooden sticks and hit my family members too,” she said.

“Later, we buried my husband’s body on Dec. 7 in our own rice field. But the villagers then burned down my home on Feb. 9 and seized our rice field the next day. They just want to get rid of us.”

The family had been evicted from their village once before in 2017, Seng Aloun said. “Village residents and local authorities don’t like us because we believe in Jesus Christ. They don’t want us here. They say they don’t like the religion of a foreign country.”

Police from Savannakhet’s Phalanxay district came on Tuesday to where the family now stays with relatives to ask about the burning of the family’s home and seizure of their field, but also told Seng Aloun to remove social media posts and videos she had posted describing the incident and the earlier attack on her husband’s funeral, she said.

A district official told RFA on Feb. 18 that Phalanxay authorities were aware of the incident and had set up a team to investigate. “But our initial information is that this is a personal conflict, not a religious one,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case.

“We are now looking for the person or persons who burned the family’s home, even if they are authorities in the village. Whoever did the burning will be punished according to the law,” he added.

'They really don't like us'

Other Christians living in Savannakhet voiced concern over the treatment of Seng Aroun and her family, noting that the Dong Savanh village chief had joined in the Dec. 6 attack on her husband’s funeral, leaving two family members injured.

“Where are the authorities? Where are the police?” the province resident asked. “They should be helping the family. The family is now living with relatives and want their land back so that they can work on it,” he said.

“They really don’t like us,” another local Christian added.

“For example, if we go to village authorities and ask them to sign a document, they turn their back on us and won’t do it. The police always side with village authorities and other villagers too, so we have nowhere else to turn for help,” he said.

Other conflicts unresolved

Similar conflicts in other Lao villages, districts and provinces have gone unresolved, a member of the country’s Evangelical Church added, saying that local authorities won’t tolerate other religions in their largely Buddhist and animist communities.

In October 2020, authorities in Saravan province’s Ta Oy district, in the country’s south, evicted seven Christians and destroyed their homes when they would not renounce their faith.

In March that year, Pastor Sithon Thippavong, a Lao Christian leader in Savannakhet’s Chonnabouly district, was arrested for refusing to sign a document renouncing his Christian faith and was later jailed for a year on charges of “disrupting unity” and “creating disorder.”

Two years earlier, four Lao Christians and three Christian leaders were detained for seven days in Savannakhet’s Phin district for celebrating Christmas without permission.

Lao Christians are allowed by the country’s Law on the Evangelical Church, approved and signed in Laos on Dec. 19, 2019, to conduct services and preach throughout the country and to maintain contacts with believers in other countries.

But in practice, the law appears to apply only in the capital Vientiane and in other large cities, while Christians in the rural areas remain subject to disrespect by the general public and discrimination at the hands of local authorities, sources say.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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