Pastor, five other Christians arrested in Laos

By Edward Ross |
Location of June 22, 2024 arrests of six Christians in Laos.
Location of June 22, 2024 arrests of six Christians in Laos. | (HRWLRF)

Village officials in central Laos on Saturday (June 22) arrested a pastor and five other Christians as they prayed in preparation for worship services the next day, according to a rights watchdog.

Tahae village authorities arrested the church leader, identified only as Pastor Mum, and the other Christians in Tahae village, Xaibouathong District, Khammouane Province, according to Sirikoon Prasertsee, director of Human Rights Watcher for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).

“The arrests took place on Saturday at Mr. Mum’s home while they were meeting for prayer in preparation for Sunday morning worship on the following day,” Prasertsee said. “They are currently being imprisoned in Xaibouathong District prison.”

She identified the other five Lao Christians as Liang, a 40-year-old man; Pa, a 24-year-old man; Laen, a 50-year-old woman; Lan, a 23-year-old woman; and Khoon, a 28-year-old woman.

After Pastor Mum put his faith in Christ in 2019 upon experiencing God’s healing, he established a church that worshipped freely in his home until a new village chief, identified only as Lang, took office in May, she said.

“Others in Tahae village and nearby villages also have exercised their right to religious freedom to accept the Christian faith,” Prasertsee said. “The new main village chief was appointed to govern Tahae village, and the crackdown on Christian freedom and practices became severe that led to the arrest of Mr. Mum and five Lao believers.”

Village chief Lang made the arrests along with deputy village chief Khampune, deputy village chief Ang and three security officials identified only as Bounma, Jit and Kam, she said.

Article 30 of the Lao Constitution recognizes the right and freedom of Lao citizens “to believe or not to believe in religion,” she noted.

The U.S. Department of State’s 2023 report on international religious freedom, released on Wednesday (June 26), states that religious leaders in Laos asserted that even though authorities in urban areas and in some districts had a strong understanding of laws governing religious activities, improper restrictions on religious freedom remained prevalent in rural areas.

“Reports continued of local authorities, especially in isolated villages, discriminating against and sometimes expelling followers of minority religious groups, particularly Christians, for refusing to renounce their faith,” the report states.

Lao Evangelical Church leaders said local authorities pressured 79 Christian families from Xaybuathong, Yommalath and Bualapha districts in Khammouane Province to sign documents renouncing their faith last year, according to the State Department report.

In October, Sa Mouay District officials reportedly forced eight or more families from three villages and destroyed their homes following their conversion to Christianity, the report states.

“In September and October, local officials in rural areas in Sa Mouay District, Salavan Province, reportedly destroyed homes of Christian converts across four villages, forcing families to leave,” the report states. “According to sources, officials offered land to some of the families for rebuilding homes in one village but without other compensation.”

Of Laos’ population of 7.9 million people, 64.7 percent are Buddhists, 1.7 percent Christian and 31.4 percent report having “no religion,” a category that includes those with animist beliefs who do not fit into other categories), according to the 2015 census. The remaining 2.2 percent belonged to other religious groups or did not state an answer, according to the State Department report.