A pastor in northern Laos who disregarded officials' orders to stop preaching Christ has been stabbed to death, sources said.
A prison official identified only as Wansai entered the home of pastor Singkeaw Wongkongpheng in Na-ang village, Chomphet District, Luang Prabang Province on the night of Sept. 8, relatives told advocacy group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
While four other unidentified men who accompanied Wansai waited outside the pastor's home, Wansai entered shortly after 10 p.m. and first grabbed Pastor Wongkongpheng's wife. When the pastor came to help her, Wansai tried to take him away, according to HRWLRF.
"Witnesses said Pastor Singkeaw asked the attacker if he needed money," the director of HRWLRF said. "Relatives of Pastor Singkeaw reported that Mr. Wansai responded saying he was with the secret police and that he came to take the life of Pastor Singkeaw and nothing else."
The pastor called out for help, and Wansai stabbed him three times in the back, according to HRWLRF. Pastor Singkeaw's son, identified only as Manh, arrived and chased Wansai as he fled, severely injuring the assailant, witnesses said.
As Wansai received treatment at a hospital, relatives of the slain pastor learned that Wansai is a Luang Prabang provincial police serving as a prison guard in Pha-Oh Prison.
The HRWLRF director (name withheld for security reasons) said area Christians believe the killing was the direct result of the pastor's refusal to stop speaking of Christ.
"His strong stance on practicing his constitutionally guaranteed religious right in holding and spreading his Christian faith was believed to finally result in him meeting with his cruel death at the hands of those who opposed him," said the director. "He left behind his wife and six children, four boys and two girls."
Area Christians in Luang Prabang, a northern province bordering Vietnam, suspected the five men meant to abduct and kill the couple in the same way that a pastor and his wife in Luang Namtha Province were slain several years ago, he said; their bodies were never found.
Officials had ordered Pastor Singkeaw to stop spreading Christianity a few years ago. The history of orders for him to cease preaching Christ began in 2000, during a period of severe persecution of Christians in Luang Prabang Province from 1997 to 2002, the director said. Lao officials delivered orders that no Christians be allowed to spread the Christian faith in Chomphet District and many other districts in Luang Prabang Province.
"Pastor Singkeaw ignored the orders and continued spreading the Christian faith," the director said. "Actually, the church that he had been pastoring up to his death was founded by him in 2000 during the great religious persecution."
Pastor Singkeaw's Na-ang Church in Na-ang village has 58 members, with some coming from Hueytat village in the same district.
A local Christian leader reported that Pastor Singkeaw was a law-abiding citizen who lived a simple life with very little material goods. He had no enemies, nor had he received death threats.
Christians in Laos are frequent targets of harassment by communist officials, Buddhist leaders or animist villagers. Buddhists make up more than 57 percent of the population of the Communist country, according to Operation World. About 35 percent of the population adheres to indigenous religions, and only 3.4 percent of the population is Christian.
"The HRWLRF is calling upon the Lao government to investigate into the death of Pastor Singkeaw and bring justice to his family and church, as well as to hold the police officer and four other unidentified attackers responsible for their cruel and cold-blooded murder," the director said.
The group is also urging the Lao government to respect religious freedom as guaranteed in the Lao constitution and the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Laos in 2009. The covenant upholds the individual's right to adopt a religion/belief of choice as well as the right to manifest that religion/belief in a corporate worship (Article 18).
"Any form of coercion impairing the freedom to have and manifest one's religion/belief of choice is condemned in the covenant," the director said.
'Illegal Doctors' Freed
In Savannakhet Province, a pastor and four other church leaders who were convicted in February of being "illegal doctors" because they prayed for a sick woman who later died have been freed pending outcome of their appeal.
The People's Court of Savannakhet Province on Feb. 12 sentenced the five Christians to nine months in prison and a fine of 500,000 kips (US$62) each. In addition, the defendants are to jointly pay 20 million kips (US$2,448) in emotional damages and funeral costs to the family of the deceased, according to court records.
The woman who died, identified only as Chansee (also known as Chan), had been ill for two years with an unknown condition. Various kinds of healers and doctors in Saisomboon village, Atsaphangthong District, had treated her without success, area residents told a representative of HRWLRF.
Held in stocks after their arrest in June 2014, the Christians - female pastor Kaithong Khounphaisane and four leaders of other churches identified in court records as Phouphet, Muk, Hatsady and Thiang - were released in March and are awaiting the outcome of their appeal