Official Threats of Eviction, Death and the Withdrawal of Rights to Education, Medical Treatment, and Water as Well as Protection under Village Law on the Basis of Religious Affiliation in Direct Violations of the Lao Constitution and Laws in Ad‐Sapangthong district, Savannakhet Province

Ad‐Sapangthong district, Savannakhet Province
Advocacy Alert No. 04/2009
September 9, 2009

Despite continuous threats by the Lao authorities, members of Boukham Church have continued to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion and meet for worship in three locations: (1) Liansai village (in Saybounthong sub‐district of Ad‐Sapangthong district); (2) Boukham village (in Ad‐Sapangthong district); and, (3) Saisomboon village (in Ad‐Sapangthong district). However, at approximately 9:45 a.m. on September 3, 2009, the Lao officials, consisting of chief of Liansai village, sub‐district chief of Saybouthong, and deputy chief of Ad‐Sapangthong district, arrested Thao Oun, an elder of Boukham Church, at his residence in Liansai village and forced him at gunpoint to the Saybouthong sub‐district office. He was then turned over to the custody of Thao Somphet, head police of Saybouthong sub‐district, and was detained, interrogated, and terrorized for 5‐6 hours. Thao Oon was charged with bringing destruction to the Lao nation and government due to his embracing of the Christian faith which is considered by the Lao government as a foreign religion to be abhorred. The head police demanded that Thao Oun immediately denounce Christianity or face eviction and further threatened Thao Oun that if words of his arrest and interrogation get out to the international community he would be put to death. The head police was also found saying that his troubles would be resolved only after the death of all believers in Boukham Church.

As punishment for choosing to exercise their religious freedom in following Christianity, the Lao officials, therefore, have decided to exert three measures against the believers belonging to Boukham Church: (1) ten school‐age children of believers were denied schooling; (2) believing families were denied access to water supply at village wells; and, (3) all believers were denied of all protection and rights provided by the law in the village. A further threat imposed was the denial of any public medical care for believers who are injured or sick.

To increase the pressures on members of Boukham Church, the Lao officials, consisting village chief, Saybouthong sub‐district police, and village security force, arrested Thao Aom, a new believer of 10 months, around 6:00 a.m on September 5. He was also taken to Saybouthong sub‐district police detention for interrogation and intimidation. The police authorities ordered, “You [Thao Aom] have believed in a foreign religion; thus, you must sign affidavit to denounce Christianity. If you do not recant, you must vacate from the village.” After three hours of police interrogation, Thao Aom still declined to sign the affidavit to the renounce the Christian faith. He was then evicted from his village. Thao Aom now sought refuge in a village where he had previously resided, approximately 6 kilometer away.

Approximately 6:00 a.m. on September 6, the district police authorities of Palan district joined the police authorities of Saybouthong sub‐district of Ad‐Sapangthong district to surround the place of worship in a nearby Saisomboon village (in Ad‐Sapangthong district), effectively blocking members of Boukham Church from entering the church for Sunday morning worship.

These acts committed by the Lao officials and police authorities against members of Boukham Church are direct violations of human rights as well as violations of the Lao Constitution, Law on Criminal Procedure (2004), Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Children (2006), and Penal Law (2005). The officials who arrested Thao Oun and Thao Aom have committed a crime by breaching citizens’ rights and freedoms according to Article 5 of Law on Criminal Procedure, which stipulates: “It is prohibited to arrest, detain or conduct any building search without an order from a public prosecutor or from a people’s court….” The law further states: “Any individual who arrests, detains or conducts any search of buildings or persons in contravention of the laws shall be subject to criminal proceedings and shall be criminally liable.”

In addition to violating the Lao Constitution that guarantee religious rights of an individual Lao person, the arrest of Thao Oun by gunpoint was clearly an abuse of authority and the officials should be punished for this criminal act. Article 154 of Penal Law stipulates: “Any civil servant engaging in the intentional excessive use of the authority provided by law, thereby [adversely] affecting the interests of the State or society or the rights and interests of citizens shall be punished by three months to three years of imprisonment and shall be fined from 500,000 Kip to 5,000,000 Kip.” The law further states: “In the event that the abuse of authority is committed with the use of force, weapons, torture, indecent words or acts affecting the honour and reputation of the victim, the offender shall be punished by three to five years of imprisonment and shall be fined from 2,000,000 Kip to 7,000,000 Kip.”

The denial of education for ten school‐age children belonging to Boukham Church on the basis of their religious affiliation is in violation of Article 3 (5) of Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Children, which states: “Every child shall have the right to obtain education…” Article 6 additionally states: “All children are equal in all aspects without discrimination of any kind in respect of gender, race, ethnicity, language, beliefs, religion, physical state and socio‐economic status of their family.”

Because of these Lao officials and authorities have committed violations and are criminally liable, the Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF), first of all, urges the Lao government to adhere to the Lao Constitution and laws and punish the officials and authorities who have committed criminal violations of denying children of education. Article 83 of Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Children demanded that individuals or organizations that violate this law will be re‐educated obstructing children from receiving medical treatment, immunization or education.

Secondly, the HRWLRF urges the Lao government to punish the officials for abuse of authority by using weapons, thus affecting the honor and reputation of Thao Oun.

Thirdly, the HRWLRF urges the Lao government to adhere to the law by subjecting the officials (who arrested Thao Oun and Thao Aom) to criminal proceedings and be held criminally liable because these arrests and detentions are in contravention of the laws.

Fourthly, the HRWLRF urges the Lao government to adhere to the law and punish officials and authorities, including those who conducted the arrests, blocking entrance to worship service, as well as the district head of Ad‐Sapangthong district, because they have neglected to perform their duty according to Article 156 of Penal Law, which states: “Any civil servant failing to perform an assigned task, negligently performing such assigned task, or guilty of lack of responsibility, and thereby [adversely] affecting the State or society or the rights and interests of citizens, shall be punished by three months to three years of imprisonment or re‐education without deprivation of liberty and shall be fined from 100,000 Kip to 1,000,000 Kip.”

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