Published: 10:00 GMT Standard Time - Thursday 19 January 2012
Christian leaders in Laos released but church building seized
Country/Region: South and East Asia, Lao, People's Democratic Republic
Nine Christian leaders have been released from custody in Laos, but the authorities have continued their clampdown on religious freedom by seizing a church building.
A map showing the location of Laos
On 8 January, Pastors Wanna and Yohan, who had been arrested at gunpoint along with nine other Christians just over a year ago, were set free. The two church leaders had been charged with organising a “secret meeting”, which was actually a Christmas celebration. The other nine who were detained with them had been released shortly after the raid at Pastor Wanna’s house in Nakoon village, Hinboun district, Khammouan province, on 4 January 2011.
Then on 12 January, seven church leaders who had been arrested in Boukham village, Ad-Sapangthong district, Savannakhet province, on 16 December 2011 for holding a Christmas celebration attended by over 200 people, were released unconditionally. They had been clamped to one long wooden plank, their feet held in stocks, from 27 December until their release.
On 30 December, they had been given a massive fine – US$125 and one cow (valued at US$600) each – for violating the traditional cult of the village. They denied the charges and refused to pay. After the intervention of higher authorities the fine was reduced to US$125, and the leaders were set free. Local Christians had been fervently praying for their release on the night that this happened. An eighth church leader who was arrested with them had been released earlier.
In the same province, however, a 50-year-old church building in Nadaeng village, Saybuli district, has been seized by the authorities. The district’s head of religious affairs had ordered local Christians to stop using their church building for all religious activities from 5 December 2011. This followed a training session the previous day in which he warned villagers and officials that Christianity was being used by the country’s enemies to oppose Laos’ Communist political system.
The church disregarded the order and continued using the building for its activities, including a Christmas gathering. But on 7 January, Nadaeng Christian leaders were summoned to a meeting during which officials ordered the confiscation of the building, placing it under the control of the village authorities.
Savannakhet chiefs stated that they recognise only seven churches throughout the province; the other 23 are therefore considered illegal. Two buildings, of which Nadaeng’s is one, have been confiscated, raising fears that the same may happen to the remaining 21.