Two Churches Closed in Laos as Authorities Tighten Control

Thursday, April 19, 2001

by Michael Fischer
April 19, 2001

HONG KONG (Compass) -- Reports from Laos say authorities closed two churches in the southern part of the country earlier this year.

According to church sources in Thailand, the number of families affected is between 50 and 100. The authorities have reportedly forced the closure of one of the oldest churches in the country, founded in 1902.

Lao authorities are also reportedly putting pressure on individual families to sign an affidavit renouncing their Christian faith -- forcing them to decide between religion and the nation. Three years ago there were 20 churches open in Savannakhet alone. Today there are only five. Sources say the Lao authorities have so far closed 58 churches throughout the country during the last 18 months.

Last year there were about 60 Christian prisoners in Laos. But according to the latest reports, the number is down to 31. While the number has dropped, church sources say it is not an improvement in the condition of the church or its relationship to the government. Pressure is also mounting on Christians to recant their Christian faith by the end of 2001 or flee from Laos. But they were also reportedly told that if they fled, they would be killed or put in prison.

Christians in Laos are accused of being enemies of the state and often warned that it is a serious violation of the law if they do not sign forms recanting their faith. Believers have been told that being a Christian is illegal because "Christianity is a lying religion. It violates Lao custom, and the Bible teaches deception."

For the first time, authorities are now turning their attention to ethnic Lao Christians and harassing them. In one known incident, four Lao Christians were arrested, kept under house arrest and later released. The government is also stepping up pressure on Lao Catholics and Protestants in many villages to sign affidavits renouncing their religion.

The Lao authorities have also forced ethnic Bru Christians in the southern Savannakhet province out of their homes and relocated them in other districts. According to reports, authorities moved the families of Bru prisoners back to their home district and settled them into villages with no Christians to discourage them into giving up their faith.

Copyright © 2001 Compass Direct News Service. Used with permission.