Residents of a village in Laos chased away about XNUMX families who had converted to Christianity, according to Radio Free Asia, leaving them in the wild without homes. A form of persecution that is not exceptional in the land of a million elephants. Communist authorities, who also persecute Christians despite blatant freedom of religion, said they were dealing with the matter.
Mai is a village in northwestern Laos whose many inhabitants are members of the Akha ethnic group, a minority who practice a religion combining animism and ancestor worship. When 15 families embraced the Christian faith, their neighbors expelled them from the locality, along with their pastor, reported Radio Free Asia on February 10. According to this media, the authorities tried to negotiate with the villagers to encourage them to accept the presence of the new Christians. On February 7, officials from the Lao Front office for national development organized a meeting between the Christian families and the village chief. In vain.
The Christians concerned did not wish to testify to Radio Free Asia for fear of reprisals, underlines the Washington-based media and created to provide Asian countries with information censored by their governments. On the side of the authorities, a spokesman for the Office of Religious Affairs refused to comment on the case because of its sensitivity, while ensuring that everything was being done to try to resolve the problem.
The expulsion of Christians from their villages is not uncommon in Laos, where converted converts who are driven out can be left to starve in the forest. Although the communist authorities are trying to find a satisfactory outcome for Christians in this matter, they are not left behind in this practice, their position varies according to the place. Laos officially recognizes religious freedom, but Christians face varying degrees of persecution from the authorities alongside intolerance from their neighbours, particularly in the countryside.
Precedents in animist and Buddhist villages
In July 2021, 13 Christians had been driven out of their village by their Akha neighbors for refusing to recant their Christian faith, their property had been destroyed. If the police tried to protect the Christians, the municipality where they were able to find an apartment penalized the owner of the accommodation after learning that his tenants were Christians. The authorities imposed new charges on the lessor who had to pass them on to the destitute occupants financially supported by a local church.
In May 2020, two Hmong families of 10 people were driven out of their village and had to live on the side of the road in canvas shelters that did not protect them from high daytime heat or low nighttime temperatures. After a year with very little food, without electricity or toilets, the families joined a village made up of Christians who had also been expelled from their previous locality. These families are discriminated against among the discriminated, the Hmong ethnic group not being appreciated by the communist power because of its support for the French during the war in Indochina and the Americans during that of Vietnam.
In 2008 fifty-five Christians were driven out of their villages, but the following year's ratification by Laos of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - articles 2 and 18 of which respectively prohibit discrimination based on creed and freedom of religion – has not stopped the practice. The same year, eleven Christian families were expelled from their village on Boxing Day and had to live in the forest, tormented by hunger.
This type of persecution is practiced both in predominantly animist villages and those of Buddhist faith. In 2014, six Christian families had to leave their Buddhist village after refusing to renounce their faith. Christians may be asked to participate in Buddhist or animist ceremonies. Their refusal arouses the mistrust of the local authorities.
Cases of cooperation between authorities and villagers against Christians
Three years later, in September 2012, government officials in the southern district of Phin attempted to force three Protestant church leaders and their families to submit to an animist ritual. The local authorities of this communist country and yet favorable to atheism apply more and more this policy of attempts of forced conversion in favor of a traditional belief.
The police had apprehended the three men accusing them of anti-government propaganda and conspiracy on religious grounds. After weeks of an inconclusive indictment, authorities should have released the three men, but kept them in jail to abuse, threaten and harass them in order to obtain evidence to charge them. Faced with the failure of their method, the officials then summoned the chiefs and elders of the villages of the three clerics, as well as the pastor's family.
The following month, village chiefs and elders called on the authorities to put Christians through animist rites, including forcing them to take an oath according to local traditions, using holy water to make them deny their faith before send them back to their homes. The authorities accepted, but the Christians refused to take part in the ceremonies, preferring to be mistreated rather than recant their creed, and called for respect for the Constitution which theoretically guarantees religious freedom in the country.
The policy of Laos in religious matters can be summed up in a few words: tolerance for Theravada Buddhism so prevalent in society since its appearance in the country in the 22th century to the point that the communist state, favorable to atheism, is accommodated to it; tolerance for animism, practiced even by Buddhists; and reserved acceptance of Christianity. It is the Lao National Building Front that controls religious life in the country, whose article 30 of the Constitution provides for the equality of citizens without distinction between creeds. Religious freedom is laid down in article XNUMX.