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ICC Note:

Lao Christians may understand this Bible verse well: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Timothy 3:12

Christianity is regarded as a threat in Laos by both the Communist government and local people who follow traditional religions. Church is growing in such a difficult situation, but only 3.4 percent of Laotians are Christians and the cost of faith can be high. According to the article, persecution is most intensive in the fertile highlands of Savannakhet Province.

06/04/2014 Laos (Crossmap)- The Communist regime in Laos has long been committed to ‘eliminating Christianity’ which it regards as a ‘foreign’ religion linked to its enemies. [The Loa Hmong aided US troops against communist forces during the Second Indochina / Vietnam War, in which the US bombed Laos heavily. After the war, a massive crackdown on the Hmong saw most Christians flee Laos for the US.] For decades, severe, targeted and systematic persecution of the Hmong continued and has included even the use of chemical weapons (see RLM Oct 2003).

While the situation has improved, Christianity is still regarded as a problem and a threat by both the government and local people. Christians are still being imprisoned for their faith — often constrained in shackles or stocks — and torture is endemic. The most common form of persecution involves high-level pressure to abandon their faith, with sanctions commonly including forced eviction, denial of service and social exclusion. Despite all this, and due to the amazing witness of local believers, the Church continues to grow. In fact stories like this from 2012 are not uncommon: ‘Another Christian was expelled from a village in Bolikhamsay Province (east of Vientiane) for “having made 300 villagers embrace the Christian faith” (UCA, 21 May 2014).’ Yet, as Operation World 2010 notes: ‘The remarkable growth of the church is still dwarfed by the size of the task remaining.’ Only 3.4 percent of Laotians are Christians and the cost of faith can be high.

Many Laotian villagers follow traditional religions that involve continuously appeasing ancestral spirits so as to avert disasters such as storms and crop failures. Consequently, Christians who refuse to engage in traditional religion are viewed as a threat to village prosperity. Village chiefs are enlisted to evict Christians from the village. Content to see the Christians persecuted, government authorities do not defend the rights of Christians but rather will exploit any opportunity to arrest them. Washington think-tank Freedom House ranks Laos as the least free country in South-East Asia and second only to North Korea in East Asia. According to one rights group that monitors Laos, dozens of Christians remain behind bars for practising their faith. Persecution is most intensive in the fertile highlands of Savannakhet Province.

On 11 May 23 Christians were detained in Paksong Village in Songkhone district, Savannakhet Province after being arrested for meeting in what authorities said was an ‘unauthorised’ location. Twelve were released after signing documents agreeing not to meet there again but eleven remain in prison. It seems the former village chief had given the Christians permission to meet but the new village chief had not.

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