The Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR), the United States based Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA), and a coalition of Laotian and Hmong non-governmental organizations have jointly issued an international appeal on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, to raise awareness about ongoing persecution in Laos directed against Christians living and worshiping in that Communist state.
“The Lao Movement for Human Rights expresses its deep concerns on the plight of the Christians in LPDR [Lao People's Democratic Republic], victims of threats and arrests in different provinces in the course of 2011, until these last days which were marked by an intimidation campaign aiming to prevent them from celebrating Christmas,” the Paris-based LMHR said in a statement.
“The Lao Movement for Human Rights asks the LPDR government to implement its international engagements and agreements related to the United Nations on Human Rights with the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners detained for their faith or their opinion and in ending all forms of religious repression the LMHR statement concluded," the agency's statement reads.
The CPPA, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., has also joined the appeal.
“Sadly, Laotian and Hmong Christians continue to be arrested, imprisoned and tortured in Laos by security forces and the army,” CPPA Executive Director Philip Smith said in the Sunday statement.
“Again this year, many Protestant Christians and Roman Catholic believers in Laos are prohibited from celebrating Christmas, or are being arrested and imprisoned for seeking to practice their religious faith independent of government monitoring and control.”
Persecution of Christians in Laos has reached a new high this Christmas season, and has caused the international community to call for intervention.
In the week preceding Christmas week, authorities in central Laos detained eight Christian leaders after their neighbors complained about their “loud” pre-Christmas prayers, reported Radio Free Asia. However, before that, the angry neighbors reportedly pelted the praying group with stones.
The Lao Evangelical Church (LEC) representatives-the only Protestant group recognized by the communist government-were reportedly able to negotiate the release of one of the leaders after he paid a substantial fine two days after the detention. Although the detainees have not been physically abused, they have reportedly been subjected to difficult conditions in custody.
In another case of recent persecution, on Dec. 21, officials in Natoo village, southern Laos, warned the local Christian community - 47-strong - that they would evict them within 24 hours unless the entire church renounced its faith.
The church in Natoo village was established two years ago, reported Compass Direct News. Members include men, women and children belonging to four extended families. The sub-district police, informed about the event, did not intervene, according to Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
These are only two examples of multiple cases of persecution that took place in 2011.
Christians are a minority in Laos- a Communist state- at 1.3 percent of the population (with a 65 percent Buddhist majority). The persecution of Christians in the country goes years back and tends to intensify around Christmas time, as in many countries with a Christian minority.
The international coalition of Laotian and Hmong non-governmental organizations also joined the Sunday appeal to cease persecution, including: Hmong Advancement, Inc., Hmong Advance, Inc., the United League for Democracy in Laos, United Lao for Human Rights and Democracy , the Laos Institute for Democracy, Inc., Laos Students for Democracy, the Lao Veterans of America and others.