Vientiane (AsiaNews) - Religious minorities In Laos, especially Christians, have seen their right to religious freedom violated once more, as government authorities, both central and local, tighten their grip on the people.
According to a news report released today, the village chief of Saisomboon, in Atsaphangthong district (Savannakhet province), prevented the funeral and burial of a woman, a recent convert to Christianity who died last Saturday.
Instead, they buried her in the local cemetery following a Buddhist funeral, which her family was forced to attend. The burial ground itself is without any Christian symbols and devoid of plots specifically earmarked for Christians. Police also detained local Christian leaders who wanted to attend the funeral
According to Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF), the village where the incident took place is the same where, back in May, three Christian schoolgirls were not allowed to take exams at the end of the school year because of their faith.
On Sunday morning, Ms Chan, a mother of eight, four already married, died of natural causes. She and her family had converted to Christianity two months ago.
Theirs was the fifth family in the village of Saisomboon to embrace the Christian faith, and for this reason the authorities started to attack the members of the religious minority with increasing frequency (and violence).
On the very day of her death, family members requested and were granted permission to celebrate a Christian ceremony and bury her on the family's land. However, when funeral was set to take place, next evening, the local village chief and the Communist Party secretary reversed the decision and cancelled the service.
Local authorities told the woman's relatives to renounce Christianity and revert to their original Buddhist faith. When they refused, reiterating their faith in Jesus and their intention to celebrate a Christian funeral in accordance with her wishes, the village chief had her buried in the local cemetery following a Buddhist funeral in a final insult to the woman's faith.
In addition to putting pressure on the family, local officials - with the complicity of the police - also detained several Christian leaders who had come for the funeral from neighbouring villages.
Human rights activists have called on Laotian authorities to respect religious freedom and international civil rights treaties to which they are signatories.
They also called for exemplary punishment for Saisomboon's village chief and other local officials who broke the law and violated rights.
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.