After persecution watchdogs expressed great concern about the treatment of believers in the district of Sanamchai in Attapeau Province, Laos, it was reported on August 6 that Christians who had been imprisoned and evicted from their homes were able to gather to worship last week in Banmai village and the city of Sanamchai. However, much persecution still remains in the landlocked nation.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), village authorities in the city of Sanamchai had granted permission for believers to meet together for worship in Sanamchai city. After high-level advocacy, CSW received the report that district officials visited Christians in Attapeu and offered to replace stolen livestock and that the persecution abated. “We thank God for the wonderful turn-around in this situation,” reported CSW. “Please pray for the leaders to be strong and use this new opportunity wisely and to the best advantage to share their faith with their community. Please also pray for the new believers and for those showing interest, and that Christians will be able to have a permanent church in Attapeu.”
Although CSW was encouraged by the overall progress, they reported that persecution is still ongoing in many villages.
In the Chonburi District in Savannakhet Province, where there are currently only three churches, authorities are reportedly pressuring Christians. In a recent incident, the Chonburi district chief had ordered Christians not to assemble in the Gyongya church, one of the three churches, which has been a place of worship for many years. The believers were reportedly told that they cannot worship unless they obtain permission from the central authorities to assemble.
Meanwhile, believers in Nam Thuam village have also experienced harsh pressure from the local authorities over their faith. Between March and April 2004 the police forced Christians to remain at home and prevented them from tending their rice fields. The authorities then insisted that the Christians feed them everyday. At the end of this ordeal the authorities took their citizenship papers and burned their rice fields. This persecution was so intense it succeeded in forcing the believers to officially resign from the Christian faith.
The believers in Vieng Samay have also been under pressure for their faith after a witchdoctor accused them of being responsible for six deaths in the village. He blamed the deaths on conflict between God and the evil spirits. The village rose up in response to drive the Christians out of the village. However the Christian leaders remained steadfast and refused to leave. They appealed to the District Governor, who later refused to accept the witchdoctor's account and arranged to have a medical examination of anyone who died in the village.
And although most Christians in Udomsay Province have been released, two remain in prison. Boon Chanh, a 63-year-old former government worker from Longlang village, was arrested on June 8, 1999 and is currently serving a 15-year sentence for treason. Sources close to Boon Chanh are convinced that his sentence is a direct result of opposition to his successful evangelistic activities. No transcript of his court hearing has been made available, but according to a report, no evidence of his treason was ever presented in court. It is also reported that when he asked what act of treason he was supposed to have committed, he was told that his crime was believing in Jesus, because no loyal Lao would believe in such a foreign religion. The 15-year sentence is thought to be the heaviest ever given in Laos due to religious activities. Two 12-year sentences were passed against Yot and Leu for subversive activities in related cases. Sadly Leu is reported to have died while serving his sentence.
CSW encourages the Christian community to consider writing to their representatives in Congress to encourage them to raise these issues. “It is appropriate to commend the positive developments and then to ask them to urge the Laotian authorities to ensure that pressure ceases in the current area of concern,” stated CSW.