Hinboun District Police Authorities’ Abuse of Power and Unlawful Arrest of Christians in Villages of Khammouane Province

Hinboun District, Khammouane Province
Advocacy Alert No. 01/2011
January 5, 2011

On January 4, 2011 around 7:00 PM, approximately 20 Hinboun district police arbitrarily arrested Pastor Wanna at his house (also used as house church) along with 10 other Lao church leaders and believers while they were eating a meal. The 11 church leaders and believers originally arrested were:

– Pastor Wanna (Nakoon Village Church)
– Thao Wantorn (Christians from Vientiane)
– Thao Sompon, his wife, and their 2 children (ages 4 and age 8) (Christians from Vientiane)
– Pastor Sipan (Dongthai Church in Takkek district, Khammouan)
– Thao Chanlai (Thao Yohan or Yohan) (Tonglar Village Church)
– Thao Kan (Nahin Village Church)
– Thao Bounma (Nakoon Village Church)
– Thao Kay (Nakoon Village Church)

There, believers were seen taken away by force (at gunpoint). A day later (January 5), Thao Bounma and Thao Kay were released and the other 9 church leaders and believers were taken to Khammouan Provincial Prison, which is about 160 kilometers away from Nakoon village.

The arrest occurred at the home of Pastor Wanna (which is also used as a place of worship) in Nakoon village, Hinboun district of Khammouan province, while the believers were having dinner. A truckload of district police officers showed up at the house in the dark, cocked their guns, and ordered: “Stop. No one moves!” The believers requested that they be allowed to finish their meals, but the police authorities refused their request and took them away by force. The authorities charged that the believers were conducting a “secret meeting” without approval.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM INFRINGEMENT IN NAKOON VILLAGE:
The hardships experienced by Nakoon believers relating to religious freedom violations by Hinboun district police authorities went back to 2008 when members of Nakoon village began to believe and practice the Christian faith while worship meetings were held at Pastor Wanna’s home. By 2009, 25 Nakoon families, consisting of 105 individuals, had become Christians. After they began to observe their new Christian faith, the new Christians subsequently put away their old religions of animism and Buddhism along with its artifacts. Between 2008 and 2009, Pastor Wanna was summoned on numerous times to the district police station and was interrogated. He was threatened with arrest and imprisonment if he did not recant the Christian faith and discontinue influencing others also to believe in God. However, basing his decision on believing and observing the Christian faith as a constitutionally guaranteed right of religious freedom, Pastor Wanna continued to hold on to the Christian faith and assist others to do the same.

Being a threat to the authorities, Pastor Wanna was arbitrarily arrested and detained in Hinboun district prison from May to October 2010. (Yohan who was also known as Thao Chanlai, leader of the Nahin Village Church, was also arrested and imprisoned with Pastor Wanna.) Pastor Wanna was charged with leading other people to embrace the Christian faith, thus allegedly destroying Lao customs and tradition. While Pastor Wanna was imprisoned, the district police authorities punished the rest of the Nakoon believers through re-education. For a number of days, the Christians were put through a re-education program with the authorities attempting to brainwash the believers. The authorities told the believers that they have been deceived by the enemy—the Americans—in becoming Christians. The authorities further exhorted: “We have fought the Americans for many years and now you are being deceived and caught by their traps.” After a heavy re-education program, the district authorities were able to force all the Nakoon believers to sign an affidavit to recant of their Christian faith. Worship meetings were ceased from May to October 2010.

In October 2010, Pastor Wanna was released from prison. The authorities ordered that he no longer believe and observe the Christian faith. The authorities told him that if he wanted to continue believing the Christian faith, he must believe it by himself but not to influence others also to believe with him. He could just believe secretly but not practice or observe it. Additionally, Pastor Wanna was ordered not to hold anymore worship meetings in his home.

Since his release, Pastor Wanna has re-started worship meetings in his house and has continued observing the Christian faith as well. Three to five families, who had previously signed an affidavit to recant of their Christian faith, have now returned to reclaim their Christian faith and have joined worship on Sundays at Pastor Wanna’s house. In December 2010, Pastor Wanna informed the village authorities that the Nakoon Christians would be holding a Christmas gathering at his house on January 5th (2011). During that time, the Lao Government’s Department of Religious Affairs was officially informed by evangelical Christian denominational leaders that the Christmas celebrations throughout the country would take place from December 5 (2010) through January 15 (2011).

However, in the evening of January 4, 2011, the Hinboun district police authorities ambushed the believers in Nakoon village and arbitrarily arrested and detained 11 believers, charging them for holding a “secret meeting,” apparently punishable by law.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM INFRINGEMENT IN NAHIN VILLAGE:
The same Hinboun district police authorities also abused power and violated the Lao citizens’ fundamental right to religious freedom in Nahin village (5 kilometers from Nakoon village) between 2008 and 2009. In that period, 10 families of believers, consisting of 58 believers, chose to believe and observe the Christian faith, being led by Thao Kan, who held worship meetings in his home. The district police authorities rounded all up the believers and punished them by placing them in Nahin Elementary School for five-day re-education during which they brainwashed the Christians to believe that the Christian faith was a tactic of the enemy—the Americans. The authorities said to the believers: “Whoever believes in the Christian faith is caught in the trap of the enemy!” The believers were ordered to cease gathering for worship, because worship meetings are considered “secret meetings,” which have a political connotation resulting in punishment. After the five day reeducation program, five Nahin families (27 believers) were coerced to sign affidavits to recant the Christian faith.

During the imprisonment of Pastor Wanna of Nakoon village, the believers who did not recant ceased all gatherings for worship for fear of further punishment. However, after Pastor Wanna’s release in October 2010, believers in Nahin village have resumed worshipping in the home of Thao Kan.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM INFRINGEMENT IN TONGLAR VILLAGE:
The Hinboun district police authorities similarly abused power and violated right to religious freedom in Tonglar village in Hinboun district. Tonglar is five kilometers from Nakoon village. In 2008, Tonglar residents decided to believe in the Christian faith after Yohan (also known as Thao Chanlai ) had made known his Christian faith to others. By 2009, there were a total of 15 families in Tonglar who had decided to embrace and begin observing the belief in the Christian faith. Thus, in May 2010, he was arrested along with Pastor Wanna of Nakoon village and was imprisoned in Hinboun district prison. Yohan was charged with influencing others to believe in the Christian faith and for holding worship meetings in his home. (Worship meetings have viewed by the authorities as being “secret meetings,” apparently punishable by law.) While Yohan was imprisoned, the authorities rounded up 14 other Christian families and punished them by placing them in a re-education program for one whole day. The authorities used the same brainwashing tactics on Tonglar Christians like they had used in Nakoon village and Nahin village. At the end of the re-education program, all 14 families were forced to sign affidavits to renounce their Christian faith and subsequently ceased their practice or observance of the Christian faith.

In October 2010, Yohan was released from district prison along with Pastor Wanna of Nakoon village. Nevertheless, he was warned to discontinue his Christian faith or else he would be killed. For fear of the safety for his wife, children, and mother as well as his own life, Yohan has thus now sought temporary shelter in Laos’ capital city, Vientiane. His wife, children and mother still live in Tonglar village.

The Hinboun district police authorities’ unlawful actions from 2008 to January 5 (2011) with regard to believers of the Christian faith in three villages (Nakoon, Nahin, and Tonglar) are:
1. In violations of fundamental freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Lao Constitution, and the Prime Minister’s Decree on religious activities, and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
2. In contrary to the statement of the Lao Government’s position given by H.E. Mr. Yong Chanthalangsy, Permanent Representative of the Lao PDR to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva, Head of the Lao Delegation to the 15th Session of the Human Rights Council Session for Consideration of UPR Outcome Report for the PDR, Geneva, 21 September 2010: “I can assure that the Lao PDR would take appropriate measures to ensure that no incidence infringing upon this fundamental freedom is tolerated in the Lao PDR as religious freedom is guaranteed in the Constitution and the Prime Minister’s Decree on religious activities, whereby, all Lao citizens have the rights to believe or not to believe in any religion; all religions are equal before the law and receive the protection of the law on an equal footing.” (See Report)
3. Evidences of the abuse of authority (Article 154, Lao Penal Law 2005), unlawful arrest and detention (Article 154, Lao Penal Law 2005), and violation of individual freedom (Article 99, Lao Penal Law 2005). (See Lao Penal Law)

The Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) calls on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, US State Department, UK Foreign Office, European Commission and Secretariat, and the Lao government:
1. To respect the Lao people’s individual freedom to embrace and practice the religion of their choice as guaranteed by the Lao constitution and Prime Minister’s Decree 92 as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
2. To stand behind their (Lao Government’s) word as testified by the Head of the Lao Delegation to the 15th Session of the Human Rights Council Session for Consideration of UPR Outcome Report for the PDR, Geneva, 21 September 2010 and take appropriate measures to ensure that the district police authorities, Khammouan provincial authorities, and those who are directly involved in the abuse of authority, unlawful arrest and detention, and violation of individual freedom in all three villages (Nakoon, Nahin, and Tonglar) be investigated and punished to extend of the Lao Penal Law.
3. To ensure that the 9 believers who were arbitrarily arrested on January 4, 2011 and detained in Khammouan Provincial Prison be released immediately and their freedom to practice and share their Christian faith be respected in their villages.
4. To ascertain that the authorities do not regard the gathering for worship as a “secret meeting,” thus must be politically suppressed, but rather those gatherings are viewed as an expression one’s religious belief that are guaranteed by the Lao constitution and Prime Minister’s Decree 92 as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
5. To restore human dignity to the Lao believers who were unlawfully arrested on January 4, 2011 as well as those who were arbitrarily arrested and detained by the authorities from 2008 until the present. Restoring dignity will be achieved by punishing those who have abused their authority and wronged the believers in the villages of Nakoon, Nahin, and Tonglar as well as from other locations.

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