Officials in Northern Laos Demand Christians to Renounce Christian Belief or Face Expulsion in 30 Days

Hueygong Village, Pakoo District, Luangprabang Province, LAOS
Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF)
Advocacy Alert No. 3/2012
March 2, 2012

 On February 18, 2012, the Hueygong village chief Mr. KHAMPENG and the Saysawang sub-district police Mr. SOMPON issued an expulsion order against ten Christians families, consisting of approximately 65 believers; eight of the ten families became Christians three months ago. Christians now are holding worship services in the home of their leader Mr. JAR-YANG.

According to the order, Christians have up to March 18, 2012, to recant of their Christian belief or else they must be expelled from the village. Local Christians nearby are uncertain whether officials will use force to follow through with the order. Hueygong village and Saysawang sub-district are located in Pakoo district of Luangprabang province.

The expulsion order came shortly after the Pakoo district government refused to recognize the presence of Christians in its district—even though eight Christian churches now exist there. Prior to the order, district officials informed Christians to report the number of believers and churches to the Pakoo district government office in order to seek permission to be Christians. A Lao church leader northern Laos stated that a request to be Christians in Pakoo district would have to be approved by the Pakoo district chief and the district religious affairs as well as the secretary of the Communist party of the district. Without these district officials approving the request, villagers cannot become Christians or believe in the Christian faith. If they insist on believing it, they would then face punishment in the form of an expulsion or similar action.

The head of religious affairs of Luangprabang province Mr BOUSEE CHANTUMA is reported to have intervened in the situation in order to compel Pakoo district officials to reverse the expulsion order, deeming that the order did not have legal ground. BOUSEE has communicated with both with Pakoo’s district chief and district religious affairs’ chief with regard to the legality of the order. BOUSEE apparently disagrees with the order and has informed these district officials that if the expulsion order is not reversed or cancelled, he will appeal to higher authorities—namely, the provincial governor, the prime minister’s office, the Lao parliament, or the central government’s religious affairs department. BOUSEE holds that district authorities cannot arrest Christians without first going through his provincial religious affairs because it involves religious matters which are under his jurisdiction.

The expulsion order violates the Lao constitution, Lao religious law (Decree 92), and the Lao law on local administration. District officials have abused their power and illegally issued the order. They should be punished to the extent of the law.

The HRWLRF urges the Lao government to respect the Lao constitution as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as ratified by the Lao government and recognize the existence of Christians and churches in Pakoo district as well as to reverse the expulsion order issued by local authorities. The HRWLRF further asks the Lao government to recognize the right of every citizen to believe in a religion of his or her choice. That right also includes the right to assemble and practice the requirements of that religion.

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