Vientiane (AsiaNews) - The head of Boukham village in Atsaphangthong district, Savannakhet province, together with top security and police officials, arrested Rev Sompong Supatto and six members of his congregations because they were exercising their right to religious freedom by praying at the clergyman's home.
As Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reports, the incident occurred last Sunday morning in the same province where, in May, three Christian schoolgirls were not allowed to take exams at the end of the school year because of their faith. A few weeks later, in late June, a local village chief prevented the funeral and burial of a newly converted Christian woman.
According to local witnesses, the authorities raided the home as the pastor and six members of his congregations were having lunch, following Sunday morning service.
Detainees are in custody at a government building in the village of Boukham. Rev Sompong is handcuffed and shackled; the other six are not.
The previous week, village authorities had banned Christians from getting together to pray.
Human rights activists and HRWLRF officials have appealed to the Laotian government in Vientiane to respect religious freedom and uphold civil rights international treaties to which Laos is a party.
They are demanding the release of the prisoners and exemplary punishment for Boukham's village chief and other officials involved in the anti-Christian raid.
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.