A 49-Year-Old Lao Church Now Becomes the 4th Victim of Lao Government’s Aggression on the Eve of Good Friday Celebration

Khamnonsung Village, Saybuli District, Savannakhet Province
Advocacy Alert No. 8 /2012
April 6, 2012

Approximately 3:00 PM on April 5, 2012 (yesterday, local time), the same Lao officials who previously confiscated and closed down churches in three locations in Saybuli district of Savannakhet province, namely Kengweng church (February 22, 2012), Nadaeng church (December 4, 2011), and Dongpaiwan church (September 2011), have now ordered the confiscation and shutdown of a Protestant church in Khamnonsung village. The takeover of Khamnonsung church came on the eve of Good Friday (in Laos) after three district officials, consisting of (1) Mr. Saysamorn, district communist party committee member, (3) Captain Saysana, district deputy chief of police, and (2) Mr. Bountha, head of district religious affairs, completed a 3-day political seminar or training on April 3-5, 2012, in Khamnonsung village, where all Khamnonsung villagers were required to attend.

One of the main topics covered was “Tricks of the Enemy.” Lao officials referred to Western powers, particularly the Americans, using the Christian faith as tricks to destabilize the present political system of Laos. Beginning on April 5th, Lao officials are only allowing Christians to meet for worship in homes, but not in the church building, citing (1) that CHRISTIANS DID NOT HAVE PERMISSION TO BUILD THE KHAMNONSUNG CHURCH BUILDING (dated back to 1963), and (2) that THROUGHOUT SAYBULI DISTRICT OF SAVANNAKHET PROVINCE ONLY DONGPOONG VILLAGE CHURCH IS RECOGNIZED BY LAO AUTHORITIES. Other unrecognized churches will likely be taken over.

Local church leaders believe that Savannakhet’s governor and provincial chief of religious affairs are definitely behind the takeover of all four churches, with the latest one being Khamnonsung church comprising of 136 families of believers  (or 745 individual believers). Furthermore, these leaders reckon that the Lao government could possibly be responsible for the orders of the confiscation of all four church properties.

The “unlawful” confiscation and shutdown of Khamnonsung church pose problems for the Lao government. The current government only came to power in 1975, which was 12 years after Khamnonsung church building was built. Then, from the time the current Lao government took over power until the present—which is 37 years—Khamnonsung church has been left in operation without significant interference, with the exception of the year 2000 to 2002 when Lao believers were forced to recant by authorities.

Thus, three questions follow—(1) how do current officials know that Khamnonsung did not follow proper procedures in building its church in 1963, or that it was unlawfully built, since the current government only came to power in 1975? (2) If a permit is required to meet in a church building, why wait 37 years to tell Christians in Khamnonsung? (3) If Lao officials have confiscated all church buildings (Dongpaiwan, Nadaeng, Kengweng, and Khamnonsung) on the basis of Decree 92 (religious law that became effective in 2002), requiring all church buildings to have an official permission to be built and/or to operate, then the Lao government is GUILTY OF APPLYING THE LAW RETROSPECTIVELY. A person (or church) should never be made to suffer in law (criminal or civil) for an act which was not unlawful when he (or they) committed it.

It is observable that the Lao government and its provincial, district, and district officials are targeting Christian minority for discrimination, harassment, renunciation of religious faith, eviction, arrest and detentions. The 49-year-old Khamnonsung church has now become the 4th victim of the Lao government’s aggression against Christians.

The HRWLRF urges the Lao government to stop all aggressions and unlawful actions against Christians in Saybuli district and to respect their freedom to manifest their religion or belief in worship as guaranteed by the Lao constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as ratified by the Lao government.

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