Seven Lao Christians in the country’s Saravan province have been thrown out of their homes for refusing to renounce their faith and are now living rough in the forest despite a national law protecting their free exercise of religion, Lao sources say.
The seven, who are members of two families in Pasing-Kang village in Saravan’s Ta-Oesy district, were evicted on Oct. 10, a local Christian told RFA’s Lao Service on Oct. 12.
“These seven Christians—including Thongvanh, Net, La, Liap, Ong, and Khane—are now living in a small hut in the forest,” RFA’s source said, adding, “They have no food or clothes and don’t know who they can turn to for help.”
The source, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, said that other members of their church group are holding discussions among themselves and preparing to visit the evicted followers and provide them with assistance.
“Village authorities would not allow their relatives or other villagers to help them,” a second source said, adding that the evicted church members are now facing shortages of rice and other food, calling this their “primary need.”
“Second, they also need blankets,” he said. “And again, their own relatives are too afraid now of being evicted themselves to provide them with what they need.”
Also speaking to RFA, an official of the Lao Front for the National Construction of Saravan Province said his office had not yet been formally informed about the case.
“Things have been quiet,” he said. “Their religious leader just came here and spoke with the Office of Religious Affairs.”
A member of the Lao Evangelical Church said, however, that his church is closely monitoring the situation.
“We are trying to find a solution to this unfair treatment,” he said, adding that “it is sad to see” that Christians still being abused in Laos in spite of the passage last year of a national law protecting religious belief.
The Law on the Evangelical Church, approved and signed into law on Dec. 19, 2019, allows Lao Christians the right to conduct services and preach throughout the country and to maintain contacts with believers in other countries.
Lao churches must fund their own operations, however, and must obey other Lao laws, rules, and regulations.
Abuses continue in remote areas
Last month church members working in cooperation with the Interior Ministry and the Lao Front for National Construction held seminars in Bolikhamxay, Bokeo and Savannakhet provinces, with similar meetings planned in other areas to inform rural authorities on the new law, a church member told RFA at the time.
Only Christians living in the capital Vientiane and in other large cities were formerly acknowledged and respected by the general public, RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity for reasons of personal safety.
Though improvements in religious freedom conditions were observed in Laos last year, cases of abuse were still seen in remote rural areas, the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in a report released in May.
“In recent years, the number of people arrested or detained for their religious practices has decreased,” USCIRF said, adding that there were no reports in 2019 of central government authorities carrying out arrests, “although there were several cases at the local level.”
Ethnic Hmong families in Laos remain an object of suspicion by authorities, with three families evicted from their homes and village in Luang Namtha province’s Tine Doi village earlier this year for refusing to renounce their faith, sources told RFA in an earlier report.
On March 15, Lao pastor Sithon Thipavong was arrested by local officials for conducting unspecified religious activities in Kalum Vangkhea village in Savannakhet province’s Xonbury district, with no official explanation for his arrest ever provided.
And in February, 14 Christians from three families were evicted from their homes in Tindoi village, Long district, in Luang Namtha because they refused to participate in an animist “Ghost Honoring” ritual in their village.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.