Vientiane (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Laotian government officials have arrested two local Christians, together with two other faithful of Thai origin. The arrest took place in recent days in the province of Luang Namtha in the Northwest part of the country, but only emerged yesterday after a complaint by a local organization. Sources from Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reported that agents took the group from a private residence in Long district, because they were guilty of spreading the Christian faith "without permission". In a second incident, the Laotian authorities also arrested a pastor in the same province and expelled two security agents in Savannakhet, following their decision to "convert to Christianity."
Sources from HRWLRF in Luang Namtha reported that on June 16 last year, the four Christians - two Laotians and two Thai - were arrested and charged with "spreading the Christian faith, without the approval of government officials." A witness, upon guarantee of anonymity, said is was "ironic", since it is almost impossible to get the customary permission to carry out the work of evangelization.
The Thai Christian brothers Jonasa and Phanthakorn Wiwatdamrong, along with two Laotians - one known by one name, Chalar, while the identity of the other is still unknown - have been transferred to the provincial prison of Luang Namtha. Activists complain that, according to the normal procedure, they were supposed to stay at least 36 hours in the prison of the village or district, to complete the preliminary investigation. In this case, however, their transfer was immediately arranged to the main detention complex in the province.
In a second incident, the commander of the army in the Phin district, Savannakhet province, on June 14 dismissed two members of the security unit of the village of Alowmai, identified with the names of Khamsorn and Tonglai, for having converted to Christianity.
In Laos, a nation led by a communist regime, the majority (67%) are Buddhist; of a total of six million inhabitants, Christians make up about 2% of the population, of which 0.7% are Catholics. The most frequent cases of religiously-motivated persecution have taken place against the Protestant Christian community: in the recent past, AsiaNews has documented cases of peasants deprived of food because of their faith (see AsiaNews 02/25/2011 No food for 65 Laotian farmers, until they abandon Christianity) or pastors arrested by the authorities (see AsiaNews07/12/2011 Laos, alarm for the lives of two Protestant pastors in jail for six months).