Lao Officials Should Not Discriminate or Charge Religious Groups on the Basis of Registration or Legal Status

Vientiane, LAOS
Released: March 9, 2012

Lao local officials, consisting of all three levels of government—provincial, district, and village—continue to harass and arrest members of non-registered Protestant groups claiming they do not have legal status or approval to practice religion issued to them by proper authorities. Religious groups attempting to register with the governemnt authorities, namely the Lao Front for Nationa Construction (LFNC), continue face hardship and postponement. Since Decree 92 (Lao religious law) took effect in 2002, not one religious group or denomination has been approved for registration or legal status by the LFNC.

Additionally, present non-registered religious groups are reported to have been harassed by the only recognized Protestant denomination, Lao Evangelical Church (LEC), due to the groups’ lack of legal status or official recognition. Some leaders of LEC are claiming that they alone have official recognition and other non-registered groups are considered illegal and liable for charges or arrest.

In order to bring clarity to the registration or legal status of religious groups or denominations in member nations (states), including Laos, the Human Rights Council’s UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion of belief on December 22, 2011, recommended: (1) “States should refrain from exercising pressure on religious or belief groups whose members prefer not to be registered as legal entities under domestic law” and (2) “States should instruct members of law enforcement and other State agencies that religious activities of non-registered religious or belief communities are not illegal, as the status of freedom of religion or belief prevails over any acts of State registration.” View Other Recommendations (See Full Report)

The HRWLRF urges the Lao PDR, a member state of the UN, who has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to instruct its officials and authorities to respect religious right and freedom of religious groups in Laos and not to discriminate or deem illegal religious groups in Laos who may not have their registration or legal status or who may have decided against being registered. These groups should not be negatively treated on the basis of their registration or legal status.

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