09/07/2015, 00.00
LAOS
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Khammouane: two Laotian Christians arrested on charges of "spreading the faith"

For the past five days, the two men, both married with three children each, have been in jail in Khounkham. They were arrested on 2 September during a visit to a family in which they recited a prayer before lunch. The growth of Christianity is behind the latest crackdown by the authorities.

Vientiane (AsiaNews) – Laotian authorities have arrested two Christians on charges of "spreading the [Christian] faith". The two are currently held at the Khounkham district prison, Khammouane province, central Laos.

Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reported that the arrest took place at noon on 2 September. Five police agents broke into the house of a Christian family in the village of Nong-hang and took away the two Christian leaders.

The two are Bountheung Phetsomphone, 43, from Nongpong village (Khemkhert district, Borikhamsai province) and Neuy, 40, from the nearby village of Khounkham. Both are married with three children each.

Local witnesses told HRWLRF that Bountheung and Neuy were on a visit to the home of a Christian family of five people in the village of Nong-hang. During their stay, they encouraged those present to pray.

After the brief service, the group sat down for lunch. Suddenly, five police officers stormed the house and arrested the two Christian leaders.

Local sources noted that the police in Khounkham have been closely monitoring Christian activities since 2008 in an attempt to contain their growth.

The village chief and the Communist Party official are the ones who informed police who then made the arrest.

The authorities had targeted both Bountheung and Neuy in the past because, through their witness of life, hundreds of people had embraced the Christian faith.

HRWLRF have urged the Laotian government to respect the religious freedom of its citizens and punish the village chief and the party official who had the two Christian leaders arrested.

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

Most of Laos’ six million people are Buddhist (67 per cent). Christians make up about 2 per cent of the total; 0.7 per cent are Catholic.

Protestant communities have suffered the most from religious persecution, a situation AsiaNews reported 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 by some groups within the country's Hmong ethnic minority.

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