Laos Church Leader Jailed Without Trial, Group Says

Sunday, April 18, 2010

By Worthy News Asia Service

VIENTIANE, LAOS (Worthy News)-- An influential house church leader is jailed in Laos for more than half a year and he may be killed as authorities fear the spread of Christianity in the region where he has been working, an advocacy group said.

U.S.-based International Christian Concern (ICC) said the 29 year-old leader, who was identified as Viengkham, is being held in Luang Namtha District Prison, in northern Laos, "without formal charges" brought against him.

He has been imprisoned since September 2009, but no trial is expected, ICC said. “We do fear for Viengkham’s life since he is seen as an influential leader among the Laen Taen people group, one the government fears, will convert to Christianity in large numbers," ICC quoted an unnamed local Christian leader as saying.

Viengkham was reportedly detained while travelling with two young men from his village to the city of Luang Pabang, about 425 kilometers (265 miles) north of the capital Vientiane. "Police boarded the bus and  arrested all three, accusing Viengkham of human trafficking. The two young men were later allowed to return to their village, while Viengkham was taken to prison," ICC explained in comments monitored by Worthy News Sunday, April 18.

Two weeks before his arrest police reportedly came to Viengkham’s house church meeting and recorded names of worshipers, but Viengkham was heard saying he was prepared to go to jail. "I want to be ready to suffer … If I run away all the others will fear and stop believing," he reportedly said.


Viengkham -- a father of three children ages 3, 8 and 10 -- is a house church leader among the Lanten people, who are known for drug addiction and spiritualism, according to Christian investigators.

“The government employs intimidation tactics and violates their own justice system to shut down Christian growth," said ICC’s Regional Manager, Logan Maurer. "Viengkha’s case is representative of a system that has led to many unheard victims and martyrs.”

Christians comprise just over three percent of the roughly six million strong population of Laos, a Communist-run nation where members of the Christian minority are viewed by officials as "unpatriotic agents of Western political ideology", said Open Doors, an advocacy and aid group supporting "persecuted Christians".

"From time to time believers are arrested, and many of them experience extreme physical and emotional pressure (torture) to renounce their (new) faith," the well-informed group said. Since last year, "at least two Christians were killed; two Christians were in jail while at least another 21 were arrested and held without trial," Open Doors added.

Open Doors placed Laos on place nine of its recent World Watch List of 50 nations with "severe persecution" and said there has been no improvement in religious liberty in the country since 2009. Christians, it added, have also "been physically harassed" while "a small number of churches were destroyed or damaged."


There have been "few restrictions in legislation" and the government’s attitude "is very negative and restrictive towards Christians" Open Doors said, because authorities apparently fear Christianity as a threat to their power base.

"All believers are under strict surveillance because they are regarded as agents for the USA to bring political change in Laos towards 'democracy'. The church cannot operate freely and its activities in society are limited."

Additionally, Christians are also restricted in their roles in the family in especially villages where converts "who renounce evil spirit worship" come "under great societal pressure," Open Doors explained.

The government of Laos, where Buddhism is the dominant religion, has denied involvement in human rights abuses against minorities.

Despite reported persecution, churches are growing in the Asian nation, especially among ethnic minorities, according to Christian rights investigators. (With reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).