03/28/2014, 00.00
LAOS

Lao Christian families who refused to convert to Buddhism flee village

HRWLRF activists denounce that Christians were under considerable pressures to abandon their faith . For the authorities, they left the village of their "own free will". Now they have rebuilt a small community in a new, safer area, with full freedom of worship.

Vientiane ( AsiaNews / Agencies ) - Six Lao Christian families victims of constant pressure have had to leave their native Buddhist majority village in the south of the country; residents wanted to force them to abandon their religion and convert.

This is denounced by Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (Hrwlrf), an NGO based in the United States, according to which members of the minority were "threatened with eviction", if the "did not renounce their faith". However according to officials of the province of Savannakhet, the families left Natahall village, Phin district, of their "own free will" to "avoid confrontation" with the other inhabitants.

In early March (but the story only recently emerged) some Christian families fled the village of Natahall, building new housing in an area about ten kilometers distant. In the past, the group had converted to Christianity, and this choice, over time, created growing discontent and impatience between the Buddhist majority and the group, in particular, village elders and heads. This year was marked by a continuing escalation of tension, which resulted in the decision to flee.

According to the Hrwlrf report , members of the Christian minority were the victims of persecution and abuse. In December, the leaders of Natahall village, with the support of the police, issued an eviction order against them, but the group resisted and refused, at first, to flee or convert. The authorities "acted to ban the Christian faith from the village and expel the inhabitants who continued to profess Christianity".

The last episode was on 11 March when, during a public meeting community leaders offended the Christians, calling them followers of a "foreign American religion" and forcing them to convert to Buddhism. The families decided to abandon their homes, starting a new life in a safer area .

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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