09/15/2015, 00.00
LAOS
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Christian clergyman killed in bungled abduction involving policeman

Five unknown assailants killed Rev Singkeaw Wongkongpheng, a Protestant pastor. One of them might be a police officer serving as a prison guard. For local Christians, it is cold-blooded murder, not a failed robbery. The clergyman’s proselytising might be behind the murder.

Vientiane (AsiaNews) – Five unidentified men killed Rev Singkeaw Wongkongpheng, a Laotian Protestant clergyman. The crime took place on 8 September, but was made public after Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) drafted a detailed report about the incident.

One of the attackers could be a police officer, serving as a police guard. Local Christian sources believe that the attack was an abduction attempt that went wrong.

Rev Singkeaw Wongkongpheng served a Christian congregation of 58 people in the village of Na-ang, Chomphet district, Luang Prabang province.

Just past 10 pm on Wednesday of last week, five unidentified men entered Rev Singkeaw Wongkongpheng’s house. They first grabbed his wife. When she called out for help, the clergyman came to her rescue. The men then grabbed him and tried to take him away. He offered to give them money.

When he called out for help, they stabbed him three times in the back and then fled the scene. Upon hearing his father’s calling out for help, Rev Singkdeaw’s son ran after one of the attackers and severely injured him.

Abandoned by his accomplices, the wounded attacker was rushed to a Luang Prapang hospital. After a preliminary interrogation, it turns out that he might be a police officer.

Christians in Luang Prabang suspect that the five men planned to abduct Rev Singkeaw and his wife and then dispose of them as they did in Luang Namtha province with another Christian couple, a pastor and his wife, who disappeared many years ago and were never found.

Locals also ruled out robbery as a possible motivation for this ruthless and cold-blooded murder. They believe that his death was the direct result of his Christian faith and outreach ministry.

A local Christian leader described Rev Singkeaw as a good, law-abiding citizen who led a simple, materially poor life. He had no known enemy nor had he received death threats.

His troubles started back in 1997 to 2002, when Laotian officials began cracking down on Christians in his area and official orders were given that no Christians were allowed to spread the Christian faith in Chomphet district, Luang Prabang province.

Rev Singkeaw ignored the orders and continued his Christian outreach. A couple years ago, Lao officials again ordered him to cease his work, but again, he ignored the order and continued to spread his Christian faith in five villages.

In light of his death, the HRWLRF has called on Laotian authorities to hold an inquiry to shed light on the matter and bring to justice the Protestant leader’s killers. The group also urged the authorities to respect religious rights.

After the Communists came to power in 1975, and expelled 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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