A 53-year-old Lao pastor remains behind bars after Lao police arrested him on Wednesday, June 6, for encouraging others to convert to Christianity, a spokesman from the group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) confirmed to Compass Direct News on Monday.
The arrest of a man identified only as Asa took place at around 4 p.m. at his home in Peeyeur village. Police then drove Asa to the Luang Namtha provincial prison, some 31 miles away – too far to allow visits from concerned family members or friends who have limited access to road transport. If normal procedure had been followed, HRWLRF said, police would have held Asa in a village or district prison for three days while they investigated charges against him.
According to Compass News on Thursday, June 7, Khamla, a prominent Christian leader in the province, met with police and discovered that Asa had been charged with leading people to Christ. Two years ago police forced Asa to sign documents agreeing that he would neither proclaim Christ nor lead people to Christianity. This year, however, many people in Peeyeur and surrounding villages have accepted Christ as a result of Asa’s life and testimony.
Church leaders say local authorities are intent on eliminating Christianity from Luang Namtha Province in an effort to protect its title as a world heritage site. They point to the March 24 arrest of six Thai Christians caught preaching in the province as another example; the six were released in early June after several weeks in detention.
Officials in neighboring Luang Prabang Province summoned two Christian leaders from a local village in January to order them and some 80 Christians in the village to abandon their faith or face expulsion. To date officials have not carried through on their threats.
Authorities in southern Laos have also continued to threaten, interrogate and arrest Christians. On May 18, officials warned that members of Khamnonsung Church in Saybuly district would be prosecuted if they continued to meet on their banned church premises. The church, however, has continued to meet in the building each Sunday with no significant consequences to date, according to HRWLRF. Two other churches in Kengweng and Dongpaiwan villages of Saybuly district have continued to meet outside their confiscated buildings in quiet protest.
The Lao Constitution and other regulations such as a 2002 Decree on Religious Practice (known as Decree 92) theoretically protects freedom of belief and worship for all faiths – but officials at village, district and even provincial levels often flout these laws with impunity. Laos is listed as #12 on the Open Doors World Watch List of the top 50 countries in the world were persecution of Christians is most severe.
Father, thank You for those who have come to Christ through the life and testimony of Asa and other Christians in Laos. You have given them boldness to continue preaching Christ as You have called us all to do. We pray for Asa as he remains in prison that You will be his peace and that his testimony might continue to impact prisoners and guards. And we call on You to bring about justice in Laos, according to their own laws, that Christians might have true freedom to worship You and that a mighty throng would join them in lifting up hands of praise. In the name of Jesus our All in All, Amen.