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Lao Officials Unlawfully Confiscate A 37-Year-Old Church Building And Ban Worship Gathering

02/22/2012 Laos (HRWLRF) - On February 21-22, 2012, a group of 4-5 Saybuli district officials travelled to Kengweng village and conducted a seminar entitled "Tricks of the Enemy." Officials and villagers of Kengweng were asked to join the seminar. At the end of the seminar on February 22 around 4:00 p.m., district officials summarized the teaching sessions and ordered the confiscation of Kengweng church building and prohibited Christians from using it, which went into effect immediately. Additionally, officials banned Christians from any worship gathering anywhere in the village. Any future worship gathering must be approved by authorities. The confiscation of Kengweng church took place in less than two months after officials confiscated Nadaeng church in the same district.

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Christians only recognized three of the district officials who ordered the confiscation, namely: (1) Mr. Saysamorn, Saybuli district communist party committee member; (2) Mr. Bountha, Saybuli district religious affairs; and, (3) Captain Saysana, Saybuli district deputy chief of police. The officials further instructed that if Christians wanted to use the church building, they must submit a formal written request to village-level, district-level, and provincial officials and be approved by each of the three levels.

The church in Kengweng village began in 1972 with two Christian Lao families. In 1975, Christians in Kengweng built their church building and have been using it for church gathering until today (February 22, 2012), when it was confiscated by officials. Presently, Kengweng village have 25 Christian families, consisting of 178 individual believers.

Presently there are thirty churches with church buildings throughout Savannakhet province and only seven of these are recognized by authorities, the remaining are considered illegal. Now that three of them (Nadaeng church building, Dongpaiwan church building, and Kengweng church building) have been confiscated, the remaining twenty-two church buildings are at risk of also being confiscated by Lao authorities at any time.

Although religious freedom and religious assembly to practice one’s religion are guaranteed by the Lao constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as ratified by the Lao government, authorities have refused to recognize the existence of Christians and churches in Savannakhet province other than seven. Furthermore, by confiscating Kengweng church building which was officially built 37 years ago in 1975, government officials have unlawfully possess[ed] another’s property, punishable by law.

The Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom [HRWLRF] urges the Lao government to respect the Lao constitution as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as ratified by the Lao government and recognize Kengweng church and their right to exist as well as to grant freedom to believe in any religion and assemble in order to practice their religious beliefs. Furthermore, the HRWLRF encourages the Lao government to return Kengweng church building to Christians so that they can enjoy religious freedom as guaranteed to them.

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