Luang Prabang’s Viengkham District Police Jailed a Pookong Village Christian Who Refused to Return to Traditional Religion of Animism

Pookong Village, Viengkham District, Luang Prabang Province
Advocacy Alert No. 04/2011
July 13, 2011

Luang Prabang, former capital of Laos, proudly proclaims a World Heritage city in Northern Laos. In the early 1990’s, this province had gone through heavy persecution against the Christian faith. In recent years, Luang Prabang provincial government has attempted to portray its friendly stance in order to welcome foreign tourists and has continued through its provincial religious affairs office to relax its restrictions on religious freedom. However, underneath its superficial presentation, the official policies in districts outside of the city of Luang Prabang remain very much against Lao nationals exercising their religious right to choose to believe another religion, in particular Christianity, other than their own traditional religion of animism.

On March 28, 2011, new believers invited Abee Weng, an elder of Fasouk Church in Luang Prabang city, age 29, along with three other believers (Pachua, age 20; Bouleuvang, age 35; and Kae, age 17) to assist them in starting out observing their new found faith in Christianity. These new believers reside POOKONG VILLAGE in Viengkham district of Luang Prabang province, which is about 160 kilometers from the city of Luang Prabang. As part of observing new Christian faith, Abee assisted the new believers in Pookong riding of old traditional (animistic) practices.

On March 29 (2011), while traveling on the road back home from POOKONG VILLAGE to the city of Luang Prabang, Abee, Pachua, Bouleuvang, and Kae were arrested by Viengkham district police, charging them with “spreading foreign religion and eradicating Lao traditional religion.” They were imprisoned for four days at the Viengkham district prison.

The district authorities interpreted that spreading Christianity resulting in persuading another to change his or her religious belief is against the law because eventually the traditional religion of animism would be eradicated. However, Abee defended that they did not spread the Christian faith but that they were invited to guide the new converts who requested his assistance to start out practicing their new found faith in Christ.

Luang Prabang provincial religious affairs and provincial police were reported to have intervened and discussed pertinent matters with the Vienkham district police, resulting in the release of Abee, Pachua, Bouleuvang, and Kae. It was reported that the authorities at the provincial level still respect the right of every law person to believe a religion of his or her choice. However, whether the Viengkham district authorities understand and are able to respect right for Lao nationals to choose a religion of their choice remain questionable.

On July 10, 2011, Viengkham district police arrested another believer whose name is Mr. Vong Veu in the same POOKONG VILLAGE in Viengkham of Luang Prabang, charging him with embracing the Christian religion. Vong was asked to abandon his Christian faith and return to the Lao traditional religion of spirit worship (animism) in order to prove his innocence but Vong refused to renounce Christ. Thus, he was arrested and detained in the Viengkham district prison until now.
The incidents of Abee and Vong indicate that the Viengkham district authorities are either ignorant of or in outright violation of the law by punishing Lao nationals who lawfully chose to exercise their religious right to change or embrace as well as observe the religion of their choice.

The HRWLRF urges the Lao government to respect the right of Lao nationals to religious freedom, including the choice and practice of that religion, as guaranteed by the Lao Constitution and the International Covenant on Political and Civil Right ratified by the Lao government and to allow the believers of POOKONG VILLAGE to observe their new found faith in Christianity. Furthermore, the HRWLRF urges the Lao government to release Mr. Vong Vue who was charged on the ground of religious belief.

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