Published: 09:00 GMT Standard Time - Thursday 05 January 2012
Lao Christian families ordered: renounce faith or leave village
Country/Region: South and East Asia, Lao, People's Democratic Republic
“If you want to live in our village, you must cease all beliefs and practices in the Christian faith.” Natoo village officials
Christian families have been ordered by the local authorities to leave their village in Laos unless they renounce their faith.
The heads of the four Christian families in Natoo village, Palansai district, Savannakhet province, were summoned to a meeting with the village authorities on 21 December. They were told that all 47 Christians living in the village must give up their faith in Christ and cease all Sunday worship meetings.
The officials said:
If you continue holding on to your faith, then you are forfeiting your right to live in our village and you must move out by tomorrow.
One of the four family heads, Mr Sompu, who is also the leader of the village church, reported the eviction order to the sub-district police.
Natoo village church was formed two years ago. Christians hold weekly worship services in Mr Sompu’s house.
Rights repeatedly denied
Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) said that taking away the residential right of Lao citizens on the basis of their religious beliefs was a violation of the Lao law and constitution.
But this is not the first time that village officials in Laos have denied the rights of Christians within their territory. The ultimatum to Christians in Natoo is reminiscent of the forced eviction of Christians from Katin village, Ta-Oyl district, Saravan Province, in January 2010. They were driven out at gunpoint after refusing to give up their faith and were told that they could return only if they abandoned their Christian beliefs.
Natoo is approximately five kilometres from Boukham village, where eight church leaders were arrested on 16 December for holding a Christmas service. Seven were detained and placed in wooden stocks. On 30 December they were charged and fined for violating the village’s hiit, its traditional customs and spirit beliefs. Their fines totalled the equivalent monetary value of US$1,425; the average monthly wage for an unskilled labourer in the province is around US$40. If they do not admit to the charges and pay the fines, the church leaders will continue to be held in the stocks.
The Lao constitution protects freedom of religion, but implementation of this right at a local level can be arbitrary. In the Boukham case, according to HRWLRF, the village authorities are insisting that their village’s traditional customs and spirit beliefs have higher authority than the Lao constitution, when in fact it is the responsibility of each village head to implement the country’s constitution and laws.