Seven Christians detained several days in Laos

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A Catholic church in Thakhek, Laos. Credit: Torbenbrinker via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Seven Christians in a Laotian village were arrested and detained for several days for holding a church service deemed illegal.

They were arrested Dec. 29 and released Jan. 2, according to Radio Free Asia, which aims “to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press.”

The detainees are from Nakanong village in the Phine District of Savannakhet Province. Three of those arrested were church leaders, and the rest were members of the church.

Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom told BosNewsLife that local authorities “demolished the [church’s] stage, cut off the power line, destroyed the sound system, and seized three mobile phones.”

Laos is a communist country of southeast Asia. Its constitution provides citizens the freedom to believe in religion, but religious groups must register with the government. The US State Department's 2017 International Religious Freedom Report said that “freedom of religion tended to decline in the rural areas.

It added that “government restrictions on registered or unregistered minority religious groups, particularly Protestant groups, remained disproportionately limiting in certain remote regions. Reports continued of authorities, especially in isolated villages, arresting, detaining, and exiling followers of minority religions, particularly Christians.”

Laos is a majority-Buddhist country, and less than two percent of the population is Christian.

The Ministry of Home Affairs must give permission for religious practice, and it can order the cessation of any religious activities or beliefs not in agreement with policies, traditional customs, or laws.

The International Religious Freedom Report also said that the decentralization of Laotian government contributes “to abuses by local officials, some of whom reportedly were unaware of laws and policies protecting religious freedom or unwilling to implement them. Religious groups stated that most, if not all, instances of abuse occurred in remote villages.”

RFA reported that four Christians were detained for a week in November in Savannakhet's Viraboury District for holding services without permission.

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