Authorities arrest six Christians in Laos

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Pastor Mum and five other church members, Mr Liang (40), Mr Pa (24), Ms Laen (50), Ms Lan (23) and Ms Khoon (28) were arrested at the request of the village chief, Mr Khampune. The group are imprisoned in Xaibouathong district prison. They have not been formally charged or given access to legal counsel or family to date.

Local advocacy groups suggest the group was arrested for hosting a small church service in the home of Pastor Mum, which was deemed illegal as the church is not officially registered.

The situation of freedom of religion or belief in Laos is poor and the government at the national and local level monitor and restrict religious activities heavily. All religious groups are required to register with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA), which is typically slow to respond to requests. There is also a substantial discrepancy in the freedoms offered to religious groups in urban areas compared to those in rural areas. When the MOHA does eventually grant legal status to religious groups, state and district officials often disregard these provisions, particularly in remote villages.

Christians tend to live in poorer rural areas and face financial and legal barriers in obtaining the necessary paperwork to gain lawful status.

In February 2024 a church building was destroyed in Kaleum Vangke village in Savannakhet Province on the orders of a village elder despite MOHA provisions granting the targeted Protestant group the right to gather. In October 2022, Sy Sengmany, a Christian pastor also from Khammouane Province, was brutally murdered and no arrests have been made to date.

CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: ‘Just a few weeks ago Laos hosted Volker Türk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who implored the Lao government to uphold the highest standard of human rights for all citizens. We are under no illusion that the government of Laos intends to turn a deaf ear to Commissioner Türk’s call, and we are deeply concerned by the impunity with which rural village chiefs operate. These arrests are extrajudicial and have no place in a free and fair society. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of these six Christians, and for there to finally be an investigation into the 2022 murder of Pastor Sengmany that sees his killers brought to justice.’ — Christian Solidarity Worldwide