Persecution in Laos

Persecution in Laos

I have a friend who is the director of an indigenous ministry in southeast Asia. He has repeatedly emailed me over the past few years about persecution in Laos. Typically, reports of persecution are not publicly distributed because they can bring about worse persecution for the people involved. In this case, they have asked me to assist them in getting the word out. Since the request is coming from the people directly involved, I am going to share the details as they have sent them to me.

I do so with some fear. I hope that this will bring pressure on the government officials there to relent in their persecution of the church.

OFFICIAL PERSECUTION INCIDENTS IN BOUKHAM VILLAGE THAT NEED PRAYER AND ADVOCAY ATTENTION

(Boukham village, Ad-Sapangthong district, Savannakhet province, Laos)
Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF)
Advocacy Alert No. 01/2008
Sunday, August 03, 2008

INCIDIENT 1
Arrest and Imprisonment of Five Leaders
July 20, 2008
On Sunday, July 20th, at 10:00 A.M., ten district police authorities of Ad-Sapangthong district of Savannakhet (Laos) stormed into the Boukham Church in Boukham village, which is 90 kilometers from Savannaket City, and ordered the believers to cease the act of worshipping God or else they would be an arrest and imprisonment. Although the constitution of Laos guarantees freedom of religion and worship, the Lao authorities continue to exercise their authority at will. After the believers refused to comply with the order for them to cease their worship of God, the police authorities, therefore, conducted the arrest of Sompong, the pastor, along with 3 other leaders and a young lady, initially charging them with BELIEVING AND WORSHIPPING GOD. The authorities fastened their hands in stocks and they were being treated as criminals as they were carried away in a vehicle from their church and families to the Lao prison in Dong Haen. Upon arriving in the prison facility, the five arrested were placed in foot stocks.

The names of the five are as follows:
1. Pastor Sompong (age 30; he has 2 children)
2. Mr. Kai (age 49; he has 3 children)
3. Mr. Phuphet (age 37; he has 5 children)
4. Mr. Sisompu (age 37; he has 5 children)
5. Miss Kunkham (age 17, daughter of Phuphet)
The five were arrested and imprisoned because they were charged by the authorities of (1) spreading the Gospel and (2) conducting religious meeting without permission.

INCIDENT 2
Release of the Five Leaders
July 22, 2008
All five Lao believers were released from prison on Tuesday, July 22 (2008), around 5:30 P.M. (Laos time) and all are saved with their respective family. The reason they were released was because three Christian leaders from Savannakhet City went to provide guarantee that the five neither were (1) spreading the Gospel nor (2) holding meeting, only that they were worshipping God on holy Christian Sabbath day practiced by believers. The five leaders released were asked to pay 350,000 kips (equiv. to approximately US$ 42) to the district police authorities without receipt for the expenses related to the arrest.

The negotiation process in releasing the five arrested and imprisoned includes a number of factors. Three Christian leaders from Savannaket City went to meet with the Savannaket provincial religious affairs at the Front for National Reconstruction and handed them with an official document defending the five prisoners arrested on the ground of (1) spreading religion and (2) holding a meeting without permission.

The three Christian leaders from Savannakhet leaders made the defense for the five believers charged, stating that the village chief of Boukham village and 10 district police officers went to the home of the five believers on Sunday while they were worshiping God in their home with 58 other believers—in a house church.

The village chief and district police officers found the believers worshiping God and ordered them to stop worshiping but the 63 believers responded that they could not cease their act of worshiping God because Sunday is Christian holy day and they must worship God. Thus, the police officers went into the house (house church) and arrested three leaders and took them away to Ad-Sapangthong district of Savannakhet province.

Afterward, some of the police officers still hung around the village after the arrest of the leaders. Instead of stopping their act of worship after their leaders had been arrested, the remaining 60 believers in the house continued to worship God. The police heard the voices of the remaining 60 believers still worshiping God, even after their leaders had been arrested, went into the house and conducted the second arrest by tiding another male believer (Sisompu) with hand brackets and took him away to district prison.

Even after the second arrest, the believers—largely consisted of women—continued, however, to worship God with boldness. Consequently, the district police went into the house the third time and arrested a young lady (Khamkun), age 17, who was active in leading others in the act of worshipping God.

The three Christian leaders from Savannaket City defended that the incident on Sunday morning at Pastor Sompong’s house—particularly the worshipping of God in his house—indicated that they believers were not spreading religion (Gospel). To spread the religion, one must go from place to place and convert others.

The five leaders were signaled out for arrest because they play significant role in leading the group in believing and worshiping God. The release was with the following condition: they would discontinue their worship of God in their house. If they want to exercise their religious freedom to worship God, they must first of all seek approval from the local authorities. The terms of their condition was given verbally by the authorities to the five being released.

Their arrest and imprisonment also allegedly affected other churches. For example, the authorities had summoned the church leader, Mr. Bounma, of Nachan village, Saiphuthong district, Savannakhet province, to meet with the district authorities in order to report concerning the church’s religious activities which have led to an increased number of people believing in God. Apart from this negative effect, the arrest and the release of the five did not have adverse affect on the churches as a whole. Instead, it has strengthened other churches to keep following their newly found faith.

While in prison, the police authorities placed the five leaders in hand stocks in the night; however, during the day, they were released from any hand stocks. The authorities did not subject them to any tortures. The five testified concerning Christ to other prisoners and 3 of them trusted Christ and became believers.

INCIDIENT 3
Arrest of Two Believers
August 1, 2008

After the five leaders had been released, the persecution against Christians in Boukham village continues. Around 6:00 a.m. on August 1, 2008, the chief of Boukham village summoned 2 believers, (1) Mrs. Kantalee (age 34, with 3 children) and (2) Loong Peng (age 58 with 3 children) to meet with the village governing authorities. After meeting the village governing authorities, they were arrested and handcuffed. The authorities verbally informed them of their charge/ground for arrest: BELIEVING IN JESUS and WORSHIPPING GOD. Because of their new Christian faith, the believers subsequently ceased to socialize and participate in drinking alcohol and in taking part in other ritualistic (of local religion) activities. The two believers were taken to be detained in Ad-Sapangthong district, Savannaket province.

INCIDIENT 4
Arrest of One Believer
August 2, 2008

Around 7:00 a.m. on August 2, 2008, the village authorities of Boukham village arrested Mrs. Menoy, age 40, and charged her with BELIEVING IN JESUS and WORSHIPPING GOD. She was also taken Ad-Sapangthong district, Savannakhet province, to be detained along with the two believers arrested the day before, namely Mrs. Kantalee and Mr. Loong Peng

INCIDIENT 5
Release of Three Believers & Arrest of Three More Believers
August 3, 2008

During early hour of the morning (Sunday, Laos regional time), the three believers of Boukham Church, namely Menoy, Kantalee, and Loong Peng, who detained in the area police station, were released with a fine of money in the amount of 50,000 kips (equiv. to US$ 20) plus 1 pig per person. However, around 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., the Lao authorities has again arrested Pastor Sompong along with 2 young people (Boot [age 18] and Khamvan [18]), at the Sunday morning worship gathering at Boukham village at Pastor Sompong’s house. (Pastor Sompong was one of the five leaders arrested on July 22nd [2008] and released on July 22nd [2008].) Now, they are being detained by the police authorities at the area police station. THERE IS NO REPORT REGARDING WHEN THEY WILL BE RELEASED.

Figure 1: Photo of Pastor Sompong

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