04/26/2019, 10.36
LAOS
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Laotian police accused of arresting and beating woodcutter because he is Christian

For the authorities, the man was arrested for cutting lumber in a protected forest. But according to inhabitants of the Phin district this is just an excuse. Officials rarely apply legislation against illegal logging. In prison, the police tried to force Agoon to renounce his faith and beat him.

Vientiane (AsiaNews / Rfa) - Laotian police are accused of having arrested, beaten and detained a man named Agoon in the province of Savannakhet, in the south of the country, for having exercised his Christian faith. Some witnesses told Rfa.

The authorities report that Agoon was arrested for cutting lumber in a protected forest, but local sources say the man was targeted for his religious beliefs. A source who wishes to remain anonymous told the police that he and others had felled trees in the forest at the request of the village leader in the Phin district. Local people claim that officials rarely apply legislation against illegal logging.

According to others, Agoon's involvement in felling timber is just an excuse: the other woodcutters in his group, all non-Christians, have avoided detention. While in prison, the police tried to force Agoon to renounce his faith but he refused. The police responded by beating him harder, hitting his ears to the point that the man could no longer hear.

A third source agrees that the accusation of deforestation is just a pretext, because an arrest for reasons of faith would have increased the discontent of the international organizations that promote religious freedom in Laos. The last violation case came to light a week after three US citizens were held for 10 days on charges of spreading bibles and Christian material without government approval, before being deported to neighboring Thailand.

Although the Constitution of the Laotian communist regime claims to protect religious freedom, the authorities of the Buddhist country consider Christianity a "foreign religion". 

In Laos, the Catholic community is a small minority: its faithful number around 45 thousand and represent 0.7% of the country's 7.1 million inhabitants. 

The situation of the Church in Laos remains delicate, as the government exercises strict control over religions and does not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. The difficult relations between Church and State are accentuated above all in local governments and among citizens..

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