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ICC Note: Perhaps taking a cue from the Chinese communist leadership, Lao authorities are cracking down on practicing Christians.  Despite government policy which allegedly allows freedom of religious practice to Laotian citizens, Christian activities are seen as a threat to the government — which has the final say in what religious practices are allowed.

By RFA’s Lao Service

9/10/2015 Laos (Radio Free Asia)

Local authorities in two villages in a central Lao province have violated the rights of Christians by threatening to jail those who continue to practice their religion after banning their activities last month, a source inside the country said.

Authorities from the villages of Nhang and Don Keo in Nakai district, Khammouane province, have been
threatening the Christians since the beginning of July, seizing bibles from them on August 13 and forbidding them to read passages from the holy book and holding religious ceremonies, the source said.

One village chief surnamed Sone and four police officers detained four local Christians and took them to the Nakai district police station where an officer named Phonxay threatened to put them in jail unless they signed a document recanting their beliefs, he told RFA’s Lao Service via email.

The Christians initially refused to sign the document, but asked for more time to consider the agreement after police intimidated them for two hours, he said.

Police agreed to give them until Wednesday to sign the document or throw them in jail, he said.

The 22 Christians who live in Nhang and the 32 who live in Don Keo have been practicing their faith since 2013, the source said.

When contacted by RFA, an officer at the Nakai district police station said he was not aware of the incident, and added that there was no officer by the name of Phonxay.

District governor Liengkham Phaengouthai, however, told RFA that he had heard about the incident, but could not determine whether it was real or a rumor because residents are allowed to believe in any religion as long as they follow relevant regulations.

Christians make up about 1.5 percent of Laos’ predominantly Buddhist population of nearly 7 million in three main churches — the Lao Evangelical Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church and Roman Catholic Church.

Christianity is a threat

Laos’ communist government permits the practice of Christianity, but sees it as a threat because of the religion’s traditional opposition to communism.  As a result, authorities have harassed, arrested and evicted Christians — especially evangelical Christians — from their homes.

“[I] don’t know if it is true or not,” Liengkham said. “We heard about this unofficially. The constitution allows people to believe or not believe in religion, but it doesn’t allow them to proselytize or engage in any behavior affecting government policy.”

The Prime Minister’s Decree on Religious Practice, known as Decree 92, which was issued in 2002, is the main legal document that defines rules for religious practice and institutionalizes the government’s role as the final decision maker regarding permissible religious activities.

Authorities at the provincial and district levels, however, sometimes use the decree’s various conditions to restrict certain aspects of religious practice.

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