Authorities Jail, Threaten to Kill Christians
Local official tells pastor to renounce faith; church member expelled, children denied schooling.
LOS ANGELES, September 11 MPBS24/7 REPORT From (CDN) â Authorities in Laos last week jailed a church leader in Savannakhet Province for embracing Christianity and threatened to expel him unless he renounces his faith â and kill him if his arrest is made public, according to a human rights organization.
Officials from Liansai village, from Saybouthong sub-district and from Ad-Sapangthong district on Sept. 3 arrested Thao Oun, an elder at Boukham Church, at his home and forced him at gunpoint to the Saybounthong subâdistrict office, according to Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF). The organization said the officials turned him over to the chief of police of Saybouthong subâdistrict, Thao Somphet, who detained, interrogated, and terrorized the Christian for nearly six hours.
Oun was charged with bringing destruction to the Lao nation and government by embracing Christianity, which the officials consider a âforeign religion to be abhorred,â according to HRWLRF.
The chief of police demanded that Oun immediately renounce Christianity or face expulsion from the village. He âfurther threatened Thao Oun that if word of his arrest and interrogation get out to the international community, he will be put to death,â according to HRWLRF. The organization decided to publicize the mistreatment, a spokesman told Compass, citing international exposure as the most effective way of preventing Lao officials from carrying out threats.
The sub-district chief of police also told Oun that his harsh treatment would end âonly after the death of all believers in Boukham Church,â according to HRWLRF.
To further pressure Boukham Church, Liansai village officials and security forces along with Saybouthong subâdistrict police on Saturday (Sept. 5) arrested Thao Aom, who became a Christian 10 months ago. He also was interrogated and intimidated at Saybouthong subâdistrict police headquarters, with authorities telling him, âYou have believed in a foreign religion, so you must sign an affidavit to renounce Christianity â if you do not recant, you must vacate the village.â
HRWLRF reported that after three hours of police interrogation, Aom still refused to sign the affidavit renouncing his faith. He was expelled from the village.
He has sought refuge in a village about six kilometers (nearly four miles) away, where he had previously lived, according to HRWLRF.
On Sunday (Sept. 6) at 6 a.m., Palan district police authorities joined the officers from Saybouthong subâdistrict, in AdâSapangthong district, to surround the Boukham Church worship site in Saisomboon village â blocking church members from entering for Sunday morning worship.
Members of Boukham Church rotate worship sites among three locations, according to HRWLRF: in Liansai village in Saybounthong subâdistrict of AdâSapangthong district; in Boukham village in AdâSapangthong district; and in Saisomboon village in AdâSapangthong district. Elder Oun lives in Liansai village, where he leads the worship service when Boukham Church meets there.
To punish Boukham Church members for following Christ, Lao officials have denied schooling to 10 of their children and cut off access to water at village wells, according to HRWLRF. They have also deprived all area Christians of protection and rights and threatened to deny public medical care for Christians who get sick or injured.
Laos is a Communist country that is 1.5 percent Christian and 67 percent Buddhist, with the remainder unspecified.
The actions against Boukham church violate the Lao Constitution as well as the 2004 Law on Criminal Procedure, the 2006 Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Children and the 2005 Penal Law, according to the organization. The officials who arrested Oun and Aom have violated Article 5 of the Law on Criminal Procedure, which prohibits the arrest, detention or building search without an order from a public prosecutor or from a peopleâs court, according to HRWLRF.
âAny individual who arrests, detains or conducts any search of buildings or persons in contravention of the laws shall be subject to criminal proceedings and shall be criminally liable,â the law states, according to HRWLRF.
âIn addition to violating the Lao Constitution that guarantees religious rights of an individual Lao person, the arrest of Thao Oun by gunpoint was clearly an abuse of authority, and the officials should be punished for this criminal act,â HRWLRF said in a statement. âArticle 154 of Penal Law stipulates, âAny civil servant engaging in the intentional excessive use of the authority provided by law, thereby [adversely] affecting the interests of the state or society or the rights and interests of citizens, shall be punished by three months to three years of imprisonment and shall be fined from 500,000 kip to 5 million kip [US$60 to US$600].â
The law further states that if such abuses of authority are committed with the use of force, weapons, torture, indecent words or acts affecting the honor and reputation of the victim, the offender is to be punished by three to five years of imprisonment and fined from 2 million kip to 7 million kip (US$240 to US$840).
The denial of education for schoolâage children on the basis of religious affiliation violates Article 3 (5) of the Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Children, the organization asserted. Article 6 further states, âAll children are equal in all aspects without discrimination of any kind in respect of gender, race, ethnicity, language, beliefs, religion, physical state and socioâeconomic status of their family.â
Last year officials in Boukham village detained three Christians from the church â Pastor Sombong Supatto, Boot Chanthaleuxay and Khamvan Chanthaleuxay â for several weeks before releasing them on Oct. 16. Authorities initially arrested Pastor Supatto and four others on July 20, storming their house church and ordering the 63 Christians present to cease worshiping or face prison for âbelieving in and worshiping God.â
Police targeted the church because it was not officially registered. Such registration comes with strict limitations on church activities, so many Christians avoid doing so.