05/28/2014, 00.00

Female students denied the right to take final exams because of their "Christian faith"

In Saisomboon, the village chief barred three girls, aged 14 and 15, from taking their final exams. Because of their faith, they "forfeited their right to education". School authorities are now investigating the matter. In a second incident, in a nearby village, police breaks up a prayer service (without a warrant) and seizes 53 Bibles.

Vientiane (AsiaNews) - Three Laotian students, aged between 14 and 15 years, were unable to take their final exams at the end of the school year because of their Christian faith.

The incident occurred in Savannakhet province, in central Laos, scene of previous incidents of abuse and marginalisation against the Christian religious minority in the Communist-ruled country, where freedom of worship is closely monitored and limited.

According to local witnesses on 20 May, the village chief in Saisomboon, in the district of Atsaphangthong, prevented the girls - who attend a school in the nearby village of Liansai - from taking their final exam because of their Christian faith.

They "forfeited their right to education," sources told US-based Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).

A Christian activist in the area, Ms Kaithong, appealed to school authorities in the district, which has opened an internal investigation on the matter and contacted Liansai school officials.

In the coming days, a meeting is scheduled between the school's director and Saisomboon's village chief in order to determine whether to allow the students to take their exams or maintain the ban "on the basis of the faith they profess."

Meanwhile, in the nearby village of Donpalai, not far from Saisomboon, the police raided a prayer centre and confiscated 53 Bibles from the faithful.

The raid took place at 9 am last Sunday, when some 80 people were attending a service celebrated by the local pastor, Rev Phupet.

"These books are evil," the agents shouted as they confiscated the material.

The village chief arrived soon after. He sent the police away and apologised to the community, saying that he was not informed of the raid. However, the seized Bibles were not returned.

After the Communists took over in 1975, foreign missionaries were expelled and the Christian minority was placed under tight controls and its right to worship was strictly limited.

Laos has a population of about six million people, most of whom are Buddhist (67 per cent). Christians are about 2 per cent, 0.7 per cent Catholics.

Religious persecution touches especially Protestants. In the recent past, AsiaNews has documented several cases, including farmers deprived of food for their faith and clergymen arrested by the authorities.

The crackdown has intensified since April 2011 when groups within the Hmong ethnic minority carried out a protest that was violently suppressed.

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