Christians arrested in Laos after worship service

(Photo: REUTERS / Kham)Laos Deputy Prime Minister Bunpon Buttanavong (L) speaks with Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung under a bust of Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, at the Government Office in Hanoi October 9, 2014. Buttanavong is on an official visit to Vietnam.

Lao Christians continue to suffer harassment from local officials, Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom says.

In one recent incident seven Christians were arrested on September 29 after meeting for a morning worship service in Boukham Village, Atsaphangthong District, Savannakhet Province in Laos.

The chief of Boukham village, along with the village security officials and village police, arrested Pastor Sompong Supatto and six other Christian believers.

They had gathered at the house of Pastor Sompong, Human Rights Watch For Lao Religious Freedom said.

The seven Christians, aged 18 to 60 years old, were detained at the Boukham village government headquarters. Pastor Sompong was reportedly handcuffed and held in leg stocks.

The local officials had issued a warning on September 21 that Christians in the village were no longer allowed to gather for worship in Boukham village.

Christians had been meeting for corporate worship in Boukham village for more than three years and this mandate is a violation on the religious freedom as stipulated in the country's constitution.

Human Rights Watch urges the Lao government "to respect the right of the Lao people to religious freedom and the accompanying rights as guaranteed in the Lao constitution and the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The covenant was ratified by Laos in 2009, upholding the individual's right to adopt a religion/belief of choice as well as the right to manifest that religion/belief in a corporate worship (Article 18)."

The report said that any form of coercion violating the freedom to have and manifest one's religion of choice is condemned in the Covenant.

Human Rights Watch also urged the Lao government to punish the Boukham village chief and other village officials involved in the illegal arrest of the Christians.

Research by Christian Solidarity Worldwide 2012-2014 found Savannakhet to be one of the worst provinces for violations against Protestant Christians in Laos.

These include forced eviction, arrest and detention, disruption of religious meetings and services, forced participation in animist ceremonies, and threats.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: "We deplore the local authorities' decision to ban Christian worship in Boukham village, and the arrest of the seven Christians on 29 September."

According to Operation World, Laos is composed of 57 percent Buddhist and 34.7 percent "ethno-religionist," and various forms of animism. The Christian population of the country is estimated at 3.4 percent of its 7 million population.

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