Loas (MNN) — Laotian government officials rounded up 136 local Christian families here during Holy Week for three-days of anti-Christian indoctrination which ended in the dramatic confiscation of their church building on the eve of Good Friday.
Believers told the Southeast Asia director of Christian Aid Mission in Charlottesville, Virginia that they planned to continue Easter services in their homes despite government harassment.
"This is further confirmation that the Saybuli District officials have stepped up their attacks on Christians. This is a new wave of persecution," says a spokesperson for Christian Aid. "The local believers have asked us to tell their story despite the serious risks they face from armed Laotian officials."
This is the fourth church in the Saybuli District of Savannakhet Province to be illegally confiscated by the government since the current wave of persecution began last September.
The Khannonsung Church has been thriving for decades, and the current church building and land was purchased and constructed by local believers 37 years ago–before the Communists took control. Except for a brief effort to get believers to recant of their Christian faith from 2000-2002, the Communists have allowed the church to remain open.
The other churches which have been illegally closed by the Governor of Savannakhet are Dongpaiwan (September 2011), Nadaeng, (Christmas 2011), Kengweng (February 2012) according to the Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom.
However, local Christians say the officials have discriminated against the Christian minority every since taking over the district, harassing believers, and illegally arresting and detaining Christ-followers. Beginning last September, they started to evict Christians from their churches and homes, and padlock buildings.
Christian Aid Mission has been monitoring the situation through indigenous missionaries which are courageously standing firm against the violations of their rights under the constitution of Laos.
Despite human rights efforts to protect religious minorities in Laos through the UN backed International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, Laotian government officials continue violating the religious rights of Christians.
The most notable was the forced relocation of Christians in Katin, Saravan.
Christian Aid has sent support to believers evicted from their homes and church there.
In 2003, government officials confiscated their church building, and the believers met outside in the open air. Then in 2006, their pastor was murdered but the believers continued to worship in their homes. Now, they have been forced out of their homes to live in the jungle.
In January 2010, officials stationed police at the entrance of Katin village in order to keep Christian believers out. Unable to return to their village, all 48 internally displaced persons–including women and children–have been sleeping on the ground in a forest. They were left exposed by the government without food, extra clothing, shelter, or any means of survival.
The persecution began early in 2010 in the village of Katin, Ta-Oyl district, Saravan, Laos. Around 10 A.M. on January 10, 2010, officials from the District Center invaded the morning worship service of 48 Christian men, women, and children.
The officials forced them at gunpoint to walk three miles (six kilometers) from their homes where they were left along the roadside. Meanwhile, back in the village, other Lao authorities seized personal belongings from 11 homes and scattered them in an open field. They confiscated a pig from one believer's home and then destroyed 6 of their 11 bamboo homes.
On January 18 that same year, the Saravan provincial religious affairs' official, Mr. Khampuey, and the Ta-Oly district official, Mr. Bounma, showed up at the site where the believers were forced to stay. Both officials ridiculed the faith of the villagers and tried to persuade them to renounce their faith saying, "Why do you believe in it [the Bible]? It's just a book."
The believers responded by saying it was not just a book but a gift from God. But the officials only continued with their mocking, "The other poor people from your village are receiving assistance from the Government because they do not believe in the Christian faith. But you believers, are you receiving any help?"
When one of the believers replied that he had been given new life by the Holy Spirit, the officials again derided the believers with more threats:
"See what happened to you because of your belief? You are left in the middle of nowhere without any home, food, or help. You should deny your Christian belief, and then you will be allowed to return to your village.
"None of the other 56 villages in this district wants you either. They have said they would rather live with lepers and the demon possessed than to have Christians residing among them."
Ministry leaders hearing of this then filed a petition seeking help from the Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom. They asked that the central government to protect the constitution and intervene, ordering district officials to stop the cruel and inhuman acts of starvation, destruction of homes, property, and livelihoods.
The leaders insist that incidents like the persecution in Katin are becoming more and more frequent.
"Our brethren in Laos have been enduring this kind of treatment for a long time, and they need our help," says a spokesman for Christian Aid Mission. Relief contributions received by Christian Aid were sent and will continue to be sent to ministry leaders who can reach suffering victims of persecution in Laos.