09/14/2013, 00.00
LAOS

Laotian authorities take aim at Christian families with threats of expulsion and abuse

Eleven families in a village in the central province of Bolikhamsai risk expulsion because they converted to Christianity. Their village chief told them to return to their traditional religion, but they refused, choosing instead to continue to worship as they wish. A struggle for religious freedom is underway in a country where this principle has been often violated.

Vientiane (AsiaNews) - Eleven Laotian families, about fifty people in all, face eviction and expulsion from their land because they converted to Christianity, Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reported.

The organisation said that at the end of August, the authorities in Nongdaeng village (Borikan District, central province of Bolikhamsai) issued an expulsion order to each head of the family.

To avoid it, they have to abjure their faith and return to the local traditional religion (animism). However, as time goes by, the possibility of violent eviction is getting more likely.

Local sources note that on 30 August, village authorities, led by the chief, summoned the Christian families to address issues related to religion.

During the meeting, they ordered them to abandon Christianity and return to animism, making (spurious) accusations that had embraced a "foreign religion" linked to "Western powers", which they deemed was destructive to Laotian national unity.

To make their point, both village chief and village council insisted that they would not tolerate "the presence of Christians, or the practice of that worship" in Nongdaeng.

Families were given three days to comply with the order. However, the latter refused and continued to practice their faith, claiming that it was a right guaranteed under the constitution of Laos.

The problem emerged between April and May, when three families began practicing the Christian faith. They were later joined by dozens of other people attracted to the practice and teachings inspired by the life of Jesus.

Since the Communists came to power in 1975, and the resulting expulsion of foreign missionaries, the Christian minority in Laos has been under strict controls, its right to worship limited.

In a country of six million people, most people (67 per cent) are Buddhist. Christians make up about 2 per cent of the total, 0.7 per cent Catholic.

Protestant communities have suffered the most from religious persecution, a situation AsiaNews documented in the past. Cases include peasants deprived of food for their faith and clergymen arrested by the authorities.

Since April 2011, tighter controls have been imposed, following a violent crackdown against protests led by some groups within the country's Hmong ethnic minority.

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