Relaymedia

Christians Ordered to Renounce Their Faith in Laos

( [email protected] ) Apr 26, 2004 08:38 AM EDT

Approximately 35 Christian families in the village of Nam Thuam, Nambak District, Luang Prabang Province, Laos, have been ordered to renounce their Christian faith by district government officials, according to Christian Freedom International, an interdenominational human rights organization for religious liberty.

CFI has reported that since last month Nambak District officials have ordered Christians in the village of Nam Thuam to reject their faith or face consequences. Upon refusing, district officials sent government agents to Nam Thuam to live in the homes of Christians until they forsake their faith.

“There are government agents living with Christian families right now,” said Bounpheng, 38, a Christian leader from Luang Prabang Province.

There are no churches currently in Nam Thuam, but there are approximately 35 Christian families that have formed house churches in a village of approximately 300 families. According to Bounpheng and other Laotian Christians, some 35 agents are currently in Nam Thuam--one agent per Christian household--living with Christian families. “The agents will not allow the Christians to worship together. … You cannot pray or read the Bible in front of other people, just secretly.”

The agents will stay in the homes of Christians until they renounce their faith or move away from the village. While they are there the households must pay for all expenses of each agent until they renounce their faith.

So far, it has been reported that no one has renounced their faith.

Meanwhile, in the village of Thong Sa Vang, Phinh District, Savannakhet Province, all Christians have been told to renounce their faith or face arrest. Bounnhane, 68, a Christian leader from Thong Sa Vang who fled to Vientiane because he refused to give up his Christian faith told reporters that “If I return to Thong Sa Vang I will be killed or arrested I cannot go back. I will not renounce my faith,” said Bounnhane. My family said “don’t come back, you will be killed.”

Bibles have been confiscated in Thong Sa Vang. “Police take everything from Christians. The Bible is called an illegal document,” said Bounnhane.

Bounnhane has been arrested two times for his faith on trumped up charges and served several years in prison. He was accused of working with Western workers to overthrow the government and attending “secret meetings.” In reality he attended Sunday worship services with Westerners in attendance. Bounnhane said, “When I was arrested the authorities asked me, ‘Were there any police at your meetings?’ No. ‘It was an illegal secret meeting then.’”

Also, in the Savannakhet Province, around 20 churches are routinely forced to close their doors and are confiscated by the government. “Whenever the U.S. government or outside pressure comes the churches are reopened, but as soon as the pressure stops the churches are forced to close again,” said Bounnhane.

Christians in Laos are routinely arrested and placed in forced labor camps to work in rice fields. Sometimes all Christians in a village are arrested at the same time and are forced to work in the rice fields for four to five months without pay.

“They have so many ways to accuse you if you are a Christian. They will plant a gun in your house and say you are trying to overthrow the government. They are very clever,” said. Bounnhane, “I have to always protect myself to make sure nothing is planted in my house.”

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR) has an estimated population of only 5.2 million. Approximately 65 percent of the population follows Theravada Buddhism. Followers of animism, the second largest religion, are estimated at 30 percent of the population.

Christians constitute barely 2 percent of the population, but Christianity is growing rapidly throughout the country which has prompted concern from the government.