Lao Authorities Appeals to Village Customs over the Law to Eradicate Christian Faith

Boukham Village, Ad-Sapangthong District, Savannakhet Province,
Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF)
Advocacy Alert No. 13/2011
December 30, 2011

At 12:00 noon today (December 30, 2011), village authorities of Boukham finally charged and fined seven church leaders (whom village authorities and security forces have arrested and
detained in wooden stocks since December 16). Unable to charge Christians for violating the law, Lao authorities have resorted to charging them for violating village’s local customs and
beliefs. The village authorities claimed that Christians due to their beliefs and practices of the Christian faith have violated the village’s hiit, which are village’s traditional customs and spirit beliefs. If not admitting to the charges and paying fines, seven leaders will continue to be subjected to torture in wooden stocks. Total fines equiv. to US$1,425 were imposed on Christians. (The average monthly wage for an unskilled laborer in the province is close to US$40.) Here’s a breakdown of these fines:

(1) Sompong, Ma (Boukham church) were fined 2 million kips (equiv. to US$250) and 1 cow (US$200 in value)
(2) Wanta, Oun (Liansai church) were fined 1 million kips (equiv. to US$125) and 1 cow (US$200 in value)
(3) Kaithong, Kai (Saisomboon church) were fined 1 million kips (equiv. to US$125) and 1 cow (US$200 in value)
(4) Puphet (Donpalai church) was fined 1 million kips (equiv. to US$125) and 1 cow (US$200 in value)

Although adhering to the Christian faith is guaranteed by the Lao constitution and the law (Decree 92), village authorities are insisting that their village’s traditional customs and spirit beliefs have authority over the Lao constitution and Decree 92. Holding to religious beliefs other than the village’s hiit is considered in violation of village’s customs. Persons in violation must be arrested, detained, charged and/or evicted.

In charging and fining Christians for their beliefs and practices of the Christian faith, Boukham village authorities and village chief have acted in violation of Law on Local Administration (2004) which states that each village head has the authority and duties:

(1) “To implement the Constitution, laws, orders…to maintain the peace, security, and public order in the village” (Article 53.1);

(2) “To promote the people’s exercise of their rights and their compliance with their obligations” (Article 53.2);

(3) “To discourage negative occurrences and superstitious beliefs” (Article 53.4);

(4) “To issues rules and notifications in accordance with the laws and regulations” (Article 53.8); and,

(5) “To resolve local conflicts and complaints of the people within the scope of his authority” (Article 53.10).

The HRWLRF urges the Lao government to respect the Lao constitution and law as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as ratified by the Lao government and to
severely punish Boukham village authorities who have acted in violation of the law on local administration. Furthermore, the HRWLRF encourages the Lao government to release immediately all seven Christian leaders detained in Boukham village and compensate for any damages and suffering inflicted on them. All Lao nationals should be granted the freedom to believe in any religion and assemble in order to practice their religious beliefs.


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