09/07/2004, 00.00
LAOS

Violence against Christians in Vientiane and Luang Phrabang

Paris (AsiaNews/AFP) – Four Christian Laotians ended up in jail after refusing to abjure their faith. According to an exiled Laotian group in Paris, their arrest is part of a wider campaign orchestrated by the Laotian Communist regime against religious groups.

The Laotian Movement for Human Rights (Mouvement laotien pour les droits de l'homme or MLDH) has accused the Laotian government of pursing "a campaign of repression" against Christians living in Kasy, a district not far from the Laotian capital of Vientiane. The MLDH reported that eight Christian families belonging to the Khmu ethnic minority were forced to sign a document renouncing their faith. Two other Christians, known only by their first names of Khamphay and Pheng, refused to sign and have been languishing in Kasy prison since August 2. In Ban Viengsamay, another village in Kasy district, the authorities expelled all Christian residents. The human rights group has also reported that since August 11Christians in Savannaketh province are no longer allowed to gather for prayer meetings. Furthermore, the campaign to force Christians to give up their faith has now reached Nam Bak district near the royal city of Luang Phrabang.

In light of such events, the MLDH has called on the Laotian government to "free all detained Christians" and allow international observers into the country to determine its human rights situation.

Laos was taken over by Pathet Lao communist guerrillas in 1975. After the successful seizure of power the new Communist regime expelled all foreign missioners and persecuted religion. Since 1991 the renamed Lao People's Revolutionary Party has being implementing a so-called centralised democracy.

Despite loosening its grip on the economy in recent years, the regime has maintained tight control over Laotian society, including religious life. Christians have been singled out for an eradication campaign as "followers of a foreign religion". Although worship is possible under very strict conditions, any kind of proselytising or spreading the Christian message is strictly forbidden.

Out of a population of 5.8 million, nearly half of all Laotians are Buddhist whilst animists are just over 40 per cent. There are also about 100,000 Catholics and Protestants, less than 2 per cent of the total.

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