Lao Officials Destroy Rice Paddies, Expel More Christians
DUBLIN, December 29 (CDN) – Officials and residents of Katin village in Ta Oih district, Saravan Province, on Sunday (Dec. 26) destroyed rice paddies farmed by 11 Christian families previously living in the village. The destruction followed the expulsion of another seven families last Thursday (Dec. 23).
Residents drained water from the rice paddies, burned fencing that protected the crop from animals and stamped on new seedlings to ensure the rice would not grow, advocacy group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reported.
“All 11 families were doing off-season farming on their old rice paddies on communally-owned village land,” a spokesman from HRWLRF told Compass. “If they don’t farm, they will most likely lose the right to work on their land. Also, they need the rice to sustain themselves.”
The fields were destroyed just a few days after the Katin village chief and other village authorities armed with guns entered the homes of another seven Christian families, totaling 15 people, and ordered them to give up their faith.
When they refused, officials marched them out of the village and warned them not to return.
Two of these families professed faith after officials expelled 11 Christian families last January, and another four families joined them after officials in July threatened to shoot any of the expelled Christians who attempted to return to Katin.
Yet another family professed allegiance to Jesus Christ after officials in late October warned that the six Christian families would be evicted in January 2011 if they held to their beliefs. (See www.compassdirect.org, “Officials to Expel More Christian Families from Village,” Nov. 9)
The newly-expelled Christians then sought shelter with the 11 families who were still living at the edge of the jungle despite assurances from provincial and district officials that they had every right to remain in Katin village. (See www.compassdirect.org, “Lao Officials Visit Expelled Christians, Give Assurances,” March 19.)
HRWLRF believes district-level officials may have secretly approved the expulsions.
“Village officials don’t usually do anything without informally consulting the district head,” a spokesman told Compass. “So it’s hard to believe that Katin village officials are simply acting on their own authority.”
Last Thursday’s (Dec. 23) incident was immediately reported to the Ta Oih district religious affairs office, but at press time no officials had responded.
The families whose rice paddies were destroyed also reported the incident to district agricultural and religious affairs offices, but authorities have yet to respond.
Deprived of Rights
When village officials last January expelled the 11 families, totaling 48 people, for refusing to give up their faith, the Christians built simple shelters at the edge of the jungle but suffered from a lack of adequate food and water.
Officials also destroyed their houses, confiscated livestock and essential registration documents and denied their children access to the village school.
In May, village officials granted the families permission to take rice stored in their family rice barns to ward off starvation.
Shortly afterwards, members of the 11 families returned off-season to farm their family rice paddies, adjacent to the village, in order to preserve land rights and maintain their food supplies.
Life in Communist Laos is highly communal. Residents of Katin village don’t have title deeds but are granted the right to farm plots of communally-owned land. If the land is left idle, these rights revert to the village, according to HRWLRF.
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. In reality, however, other laws and policies contradict and restrict these rights, as confirmed by the U.S. State Department in its 2010 report on International Religious Freedom.