Lao Authorities arrest Christians in separate incidents

Thursday, July 28, 2011

by Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News Correspondent

It's been a tough time to be a Christian in Laos.

In Luang Namtha Province, Pastor Seng Aroun of Kon church and three other Christians from Sounya village were arrested in July by provincial authorities and detained at Luang Namtha’s provincial prison. Although most were soon released, the authorities ordered all Christians in Sounya village to stop worshiping in private homes, according to Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom.

Christians in Sounya village have faced persecution since the conversion of some 400 residents in 2002; seven years later, police and military personnel destroyed the Sounya church building.

In Luang Prabang Province, police ordered Vong Veu -- a Christian resident of Pookong village -- to abandon his faith and return to traditional animism July 10. When Veu refused, officers arrested and detained him without trial at Viengkham district prison where he remains at press time, HRWLRF reported.

In March, district police arrested Abee Weng, an elder of Fasouk Church in Luang Prabang city, along with three other church members, charging them all with "spreading a foreign religion and eradicating Lao traditional religion". Police held the men at Viengkham district prison until provincial religious affairs officers intervened and secured their release, HRWLRF reported.

In Udomsai Province, 58-year-old Bounchan Kanthavong of Vanghai village is nearing the end of a 12-year prison sentence following his conversion to Christianity and subsequent preaching of the Gospel.

Kanthavong was arrested in 1999 for "treason and sedition"; an investigation revealed that the charges were based on Kanthavong's role in the conversion of at least 70 people to Christianity, supposedly making them answerable to a "foreign power" instead of the Lao authorities.

Following Kanthavong's arrest, his wife Sengkham took over the leadership of their small Christian community that today numbers more than 3,000 people.

In Khammouan Province, Pastors Wanna and Yohan remain incarcerated despite an eight-point appeal by the Center for Public Policy Analysis in Washington, D.C.

The appeal called the government to "cease religious freedom violations, persecution and harassment of independent Laotian and Hmong Christian, Animist and Buddhist believers, including Laotian Christian Pastor Wanna, who has been repeatedly arrested and beaten along with other Lao Christian believers."

Back in January, Wanna, Yohan and eight other Christians, including two children, were charged with "gathering for the purpose of creating turbulent unrest."

When the chief of Nakoon village advised Wanna's wife and their children to reject Christ, his coucil was ignored, according to HRWLRF.