DUBLIN (Compass Direct News) – Officials in southern Laos in the next 48 hours plan to burn temporary shelters built by expelled Christians unless they recant their faith, according to advocacy group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
Authorities including a religious affairs official, the district head, district police and the chief of Katin village in Ta-Oyl district, Saravan province, expelled the 48 Christians at gunpoint on Jan. 18.
Prior to the expulsion, officials raided a worship service, destroyed homes and belongings and demanded that the Christians renounce their faith.
Left to survive in the open, the Christians began to build temporary shelters, and then more permanent homes, on the edge of the jungle, according to HRWLRF. They continued to do so even after deputy district head Khammun, identified only by his surname, arrived at the site on Feb. 9 and ordered them to cease construction.
More officials arrived on Feb. 18 and ordered the Christians to cease building and either renounce their faith or relocate to another area. When the group insisted on retaining their Christian identity, the officials left in frustration.
On Monday (March 15), district head Bounma, identified only by his surname, summoned seven of the believers to his office, HRWLRF reported.
Bounma declared that although the republic's law and constitution allowed for freedom of religious belief, he would not allow Christian beliefs and practices in areas under his control. If the Katin believers would not give up their faith, he said, they must relocate to a district where Christianity was tolerated.
When the seven Christians asked Bounma to supply them with a written eviction order, he refused.
The Christians later heard through local sources that the chiefs of Katin and neighboring Ta Loong village planned to burn down their temporary shelters and 11 partially-constructed homes erected on land owned by Ta Loong, according to HRWLRF.
These threats have left the Christians in a dilemma, as permission is required to move into another district.
Both adults and children in the group are also suffering from a lack of adequate food and shelter, according to HRWLRF.
"They are without light, food and clean water, except for a small stream nearby," a spokesman said. Officials also forced them to leave the village with minimal clothing and other items necessary for basic survival.
Village officials have said they will only allow spirit worship in the area. A communist country, Laos is 1.5 percent Christian and 67 percent Buddhist, with the remainder unspecified. Article 6 and Article 30 of the Lao Constitution guarantee the right of Christians and other religious minorities to practice the religion of their choice without discrimination or penalty.
Decree 92, promulgated in July 2002 by the prime minister to "manage and protect" religious activities in Laos, also declares the central government's intent to "ensure the exercise of the right of Lao people to believe or not to believe."