Burned Bibles and broken homes

Authorities and village residents tear down house church in southern Laos
By RFA Lao
2024.02.06
Burned Bibles and broken homes Village authorities and residents tear down a makeshift Christian church in Kaleum Vangke village in Savannakhet province, Laos, Feb. 4, 2024.
Citizen journalist

Village leaders and residents barged into a private home in southern Laos to stop several families gathered there from holding a Christian worship service on Sunday, several eyewitnesses told Radio Free Asia.

The incident was the latest in a string of similar assaults and legal moves against Christians in the one-party communist state with a mostly Buddhist population despite a national law protecting the free exercise of their faith.

“The village authorities came here and tore down our home at around 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning,” a person who attended services at the makeshift church in Kaleum Vangke village in Savannakhet province’s Xonboury district, told RFA Lao, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons like all other unnamed sources in this report.

“The authorities, including the village chief, village security guards and senior members of the village attacked us suddenly and destroyed our place of worship,” the eyewitness said.

The mob burned Bibles and other documents during the attack, the eyewitness said. 

“They tore down our home because they don’t want our Christian brothers and sisters to worship God,” a second eyewitness said. “We’ve reported the attack to the district authorities who said that they’re trying to solve the conflict.”

Xonboury district police confirmed to RFA that they were addressing the incident.

A third believer said that prominent members of the village last month summoned the six Christian families that lived there and told them to stop practicing their religion, or more specifically, to stop holding Sunday services. If they refused to comply then authorities would tear down their building.

‘Harassed again’

The Lao government recognizes only four religions, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Baha’i. The house church in Kaleum Vangke is affiliated with the Lao Evangelical Church, the only Christian denomination recognized by the government – but it was still attacked.

“It’s sad seeing our fellow Christians being harassed again,” a member of the denomination told RFA. The church member explained that on the day of the attack, several Chrisitan families from a neighboring district were visiting the church to hold services together with the families in Kaleum Vangke.

Kaleum Vangke is not new to religious conflict. In March 2020, RFA reported that Pastor Sithong Thipphavong was arrested from the village and forced to denounce his Christian faith. When he refused, he was charged and found guilty of causing a social disorder and breaking up the village unity. 

He was jailed for a year and fined 4 million kip (US$200) and he was freed in April 2021.

Crackdowns like Sunday’s are happening more often in Savannakhet, another member of the denomination said.

“At the district and provincial levels, our party and government allow us to believe or not to believe in any religion. But at the village level, it’s the opposite,” the second church member said. 

“For example, those who believe in spirits say that the Christian faith is against their tradition and culture,” the member said. “They don’t want Christians to bury their dead bodies in their cemetery.”

Translated by Max Avary. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

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