Rural villagers in northwestern Laos have driven 15 families and a pastor out of their village because of their Christian beliefs, said a report on Radio Free Asia.
Mai village in Luang Namtha province is home to many members of the Ahka minority, which has its own spiritual beliefs. But when 15 families in the village converted to Christianity, their neighbors banded together and chased them and their pastor out of town.
The incident was the latest in a string of similar assaults and legal moves against Christians in the one-party communist state with a mostly Buddhist population despite a national law protecting the free exercise of their faith.
Currently the ousted families have no place to stay and authorities have been trying to negotiate with the village to encourage them to live together in harmony, but these efforts have not been successful, a Christian who is not involved in the case told RFA’s Lao Service on Feb. 7 on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.
“Today officials from the Lao Front for National Development office here in Luang Namtha province and other related sectors summoned the Christian families and the village leader to try to solve the conflict among them, but there’s no progress,” the source said.
A spokesperson for the office, which handles religious matters, declined to comment on the matter because it is a sensitive issue, but said they were still working on the case.
RFA attempted to contact the Christians involved, but none of them agreed to speak on record because they fear for their safety and want to avoid retribution.
Persecuted for their faith
In other parts of Laos, authorities have not only failed to protect Christians from persecution, in several cases they were the source of it.
In August 2022, authorities from Luang Prabang province’s Xieng Ngeun district confiscated the ID, passport, and village registration cards of an ethnic minority Christian family, saying the documents would be returned only if they renounce their faith.
A Christian from northern Laos who requested anonymity for security reasons said that local level authorities all over the northern region have conducted a campaign against Christians, so the situation in Luang Namtha is not surprising.
“Authorities would buy necessities to help the poor, but they would only give them out if the Christians would renounce their faith,” the source said. “They would say that Christianity is a foreign religion, the religion of Westerners who are our enemies, even though the Christians do not agree that they are our enemies.”
But an official from the northern regional office for the Lao Front for National Development denied that the organization targets Christians.
“We do not forbid them to believe Christianity, but some of Christian believers use Christianity in the wrong way against the rules and regulations of villages,” the official said. “For example, when they convert to Christianity, they do not participate in ethnic festivals or ceremonies and they spread Christianity to other communities.”
The official said that most of the time, authorities are able to solve the problem.
Similar incidents targeting Christians have occurred. In the southern part of the country. Between 2020 and 2021, 15 people from seven families were evicted from villages in Saravane province.
Some of these have since been allowed to return, a provincial official told RFA.
“The head of the village was opposed to them returning … but district authorities want them to live together harmoniously,” the official said.
In some cases, crimes against Christian victims go unsolved in Laos.
In October 2022, a pastor from Khammouane province was found dead and his body showed signs that he had been tortured prior to his death. Authorities have not yet arrested any suspects.
In February 2022, attackers burned the house of a Christian ethnic family in Savannakhet province. This case too remains unsolved.
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