Christian families from two villages in the same Lao province have been ordered to renounce their faith or face expulsion.
One of the groups – ten families, around 65 people, from Hueygong village, Pakoo district, Luangprabang province – has been given a deadline of 18 March to either recant or leave their homes. Eight of the families became Christians just three months ago.
Local authorities issued the expulsion order on 18 February. Prior to this, Pakoo district officials had demanded information about the number of churches and believers in the area and said that people had to seek permission from the authorities to be Christians. The Pakoo district government has refused to recognise the presence of Christians in its territory, despite the fact that there are eight churches there now.
The head of religious affairs of Luangprabang province has however intervened on behalf of the Hueygong Christians. He has told district officials that the expulsion order is illegal and should be reversed. If it is not, he will take the matter to higher authorities.
The other group of Christians who are facing eviction in Luangprabang province live in Hueysell village, Ngoi district. Two Christian leaders were summoned to the village government headquarters in mid-January and given the verbal order that the Christian residents must renounce their faith or face being ejected. The 14 Christian families, over 80 individuals, have stood firm, and so far the village authorities have not carried out their expulsion threat.
Christians elsewhere in Laos have faced similar harassment. In December 2011, all 47 Christians in Natoo village, Palansai district, Savannakhet province, were told that they must give up their faith in Christ and cease all Sunday worship meetings or leave.
Threats of this nature have been carried out. Christian families were driven out of Katin village, Ta-Oyl district, Saravan Province, at gunpoint in January 2010. They were told that they could return only if they abandoned their Christian beliefs.
Although the Lao constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which the country is a signatory grants freedom of religion, in practice the authorities continue to harass, evict and arrest Christians. The Communist regime is deeply suspicious of Christianity, which they regard as a Western import.