Lao District Authorities Seized and Converted Church Building into a School in Dongpaiwan Village

Dongpaiwan Village, Saybuly District, Savannakhet Province
Advocacy Alert No. 06/2011
September 22, 2011

On 14 September 2011, the Saybuly district chief (Mr. Khamman), district police chief (Mr. Nokan), and district religious affairs (Mr. Bountha), district official (Mr. Sonthala), along with approximately 20 military and police personnel and villager security force, seized Dongpaiwan church building, land, and fish pond. Christian symbol, namely the cross, was torn down. The government officials cited that the takeover of the church building was on the basis that the Christians did not obtain approval for the construction of the new church building. The officials charged the believers: “You have violated the law by constructing a church building without official permission.” Lao Christians insisted that, although religious decree allows Christians to seek permission for constructing a place of worship, the government always deny issuing approval for new construction of church building or worship place. Citing “constructing church building without approval” as justification for the takeover was just an excuse for their aggression against the Christians, said a prominent Christian church leader.

Since the seizure of Dongpaiwan church building, the government officials have converted the church into a school building, housing 5th graders. School desks and chairs were moved into the building and no believers are allowed on the property. Soldiers guard the property since the seizure of the church, preventing believers from returning to occupy the building.

The construction of Dongpaiwan church building began in 2010 and was completed around April 2011. This church was started in 33 years ago (1978) with 3 families. Now, it has a membership of 29 families (212 believers). The Christians are now forced to worship in homes. Approximately 20 other locations throughout Savannakhet province is in a similar situation as Dongpaiwan church, where church buildings were constructed without an official approval due to the fact that the approval was always denied for constructing new place of worship. Local Lao Christian leaders believe Savannakhet provincial authorities are behind the takeover, and, if the authorities can get away with shutting down Dongpaiwan church, they will also continue to shut down and seize other 20 locations across the province.

By shutting down and seizing the church building as well as converting it to a government school, the authorities have violated religious freedom to assemble and practice the Christian faith of the Dongpaiwan Christian community.

The HRWLRF urges the Lao government to respect the Lao Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rightsratified by the Lao government and to cease these acts of aggression against Dongpaiwan’s Christian minority and return the confiscated church building to the Dongpaiwan Christian community so that they can exercise their freedom to practice their religious faith.

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