Authorities in the Asian nation of Laos cracked down on worshiping Christians this Christmas season.
Several Christians were arrested on the days before and after Christmas in separate incidents that took place in the country’s southern Savannakhet province.
Most recently, as many as seven Christians were reportedly arrested while worshipping at a Christmas church service in the Nakanong Village.
According to the Human Rights Watcher for Lao Religious Freedom, a group of nine police officers raided the Nakanong Village Christmas service around 6 p.m. last Saturday and initially arrested three church leaders.
The church leaders were taken to the Phin district police headquarters. The police later returned to the village about two hours later and arrested four more Christians, who were also taken to the Phin police headquarters.
The arrested Christians were reportedly detained for illegally gathering for worship without the government’s permission.
Around 10 p.m., according to the human rights group, police officers again returned to the village church and destroyed the stage and church’s sound system. The police cut off power to the church and confiscated three cell phones.
Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports that the seven Christians arrested on Dec. 29 were freed and allowed to go home on Wednesday.
Earlier in December, RFA reported that five other Christians were arrested by authorities in the Non Soung village of the Phin district.
The arrests were made after a group of Christians in one village invited a pastor from a neighboring village to organize a Christmas celebration, according to a local resident.
The source, who spoke to RFA on the condition of anonymity, stated that the Christians were arrested for breaching rules designed specifically to restrict Christianity in the Phin district.
“Early last week, as Christians in the Non Soung village of Phin district, were preparing for Christmas celebrations, a Christian pastor from another village in the same district came to help organize the festivities,” the source explained. “A couple of days later, district security guards arrested five Christians — four from Non Soung village and the pastor who had come from the other village nearby.”
The source said that regulations allow Christians to only hold and participate in Christmas celebrations in their own village.
A district official refused to comment on the case but told RFA that Christian celebrations in the district are subject to various government controls.
“In general, Christians are still restricted in this district,” the official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said. “They are not allowed to teach from the Bible or to spread their religion to others because Christianity is the religion of the Europeans and Americans.”
Hostility toward Christianity is not just confined to the Phin district or the Savannakhet province. The nation ranks as the 20th worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2018 World Watch List.
Christians comprise about 3 percent of the population in Laos.
According to the persecution watchdog group, much of the persecution against Christians in Laos “originates from communist authorities, local leaders and their immediate communities and families.”
“Due to the tight grip of the Communist Party in this Southeast Asian country, religion is seen as a hostile element,” an Open Doors fact sheet explains. “Christianity, in particular, is considered a Western influence and especially dangerous. The government has recently made efforts to increase the monitoring of illegal house churches with the help of registered churches, resulting in the arrest and detention of Christian believers.”
The Central European Christian news agency BosNewsLife reports that the detentions of the Christians this Christmas season come despite attempts at Western-style reforms being made in other areas of the country throughout the last several years.
In November, four other Lao Christians, including a 78-year-old grandmother, were arrested and held for about a week in Savannakhet province’s Vilabouly district. They too were detained for holding worship services without the permission of authorities.