By Ryan Morgan
Washington, D.C. (August 28, 2012)- International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that cases of persecution against Lao Christians have steadily increased across the country in 2012. In the first six months of 2012 ICC reported on fifteen separate incidents of Christian persecution in Laos, the same amount reported in all of 2011.
In the most recent incident reported last week, a village church leader in the country’s central Bolikhamsai Province was arrested after local officials became upset with the number of villagers converting to Christianity. The church leader, Mr. Bountheung, was told that he and 300 other villagers must renounce their Christian beliefs “in exchange for the right to continue living in the village.”
Mr. Bountheung was also ordered to sell his home and leave the village within a week. The details are unclear, but it appears that Mr. Bountheung was either unable or unwilling to sell his home and was subsequently arrested.
This latest incident comes on the heels of earlier reports this summer in Savannakhet Province and Laung Namtha Province of Lao Christians being threatened with expulsion and fired by their employers for their religious beliefs.
The crackdown in Savannakhet Province, which derives its name from Savanh Nakhone, or “city of paradise,” also involved the forced closure of at least four churches over the course of several months earlier this year. One of these churches had been operating since the mid-1960’s but was ostensibly shut down for lacking proper building permits, despite the fact that it was constructed ten years before the current Lao government came to power.
Laos, which has earned a reputation among tourists as Southeast Asia’s most “laid-back” nation, has been ruled by the Communist Lao People’s Revolutionary Party since 1975. The Party passed legislation in 2002 (Decree 92) that makes various religious activities legal, but requires government permission to be obtained beforehand. Acquiring such permission can be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Christian leaders report that this law is often used to prevent services from taking place or the construction of new churches.
Despite this, stories have emerged of Lao Christians who remain defiant in the face of government and community pressure to renounce their faith. A report earlier this month described one church leader in Savannakhet Province who responded to official calls to renounce his faith by stating “God is real. When we believe, we are healed from sickness and immediately delivered from the possession of evil spirits…we cannot deny the reality of God’s power.”