(Morning Star News) – Eager to stop the spread of Christianity, authorities in a village in Laos have charged a pastor and four church members with murder after they prayed for a sick woman who later died, area sources said.
The deceased, a mother of eight grown children in Savannakhet Province identified only by her surname of Chan, had been ill for two years jwith an unknown condition. Various kinds of healers and doctors in Saisomboon village, Atsaphangthong District, had treated her without success, area residents told a representative of Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
“Mrs. Chan came – in April – to Kaithong, the leader of the Saisomboon village church, to be prayed for, and she apparently became well for a short time,” the HRWLRF representative, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told Morning Star News. “She then embraced the Christian faith. Then, she suddenly passed away on June 21. The police authorities charged Kaithong as well as the other four Christians/leaders who were present at the funeral of murder because she passed away.”
Her eight sons and daughters, four of whom are married, also began to embrace Christianity, he said, and four other families in the village had already put their trust in Christ.
“I believe that authorities are trying to find every way they possibly can in order to stop the spread of Christian religious freedom in the area,” the HRWLRF representative said.
The pastor, a woman identified only as Kaithong, and the four others were arrested on Tuesday evening (June 24) and were being held in handcuffs with their feet in stocks, he said. Along with the pastor, four church members identified only as Puphet, Muk, Hasadee and Tiang were detained at Bouthong sub-district police station, directed by Atsaphangthong District police.
Initially they were arrested only over a burial dispute. On the day Chan died, her sons and daughters secured permission from the Saisomboon village chief to organize a Christian burial ceremony and to bury her on their own personal property, as Christians are denied burial rights in the Saisomboon village cemetery. When the time came to gather for mourning on Sunday evening (June 22), however, the village chief, along with the village’s Communist party secretary, reversed the decision.
The officials banned the mourning gathering as well as the burial ceremony unless her children signed an affidavit to recant their Christian faith; they refused and maintained their intention to carry out a Christian funeral.
On Sunday evening (June 22), Christians came from Donpalai, Huey and Bungthalay and other nearby villages to attend the mourning service, but authorities forbade it. The next day, the leader of Saisomboon village church, Kaithong, filed an appeal of the prohibition with the Atsaphangthong District chief. The Christians from nearby villages continued to provide support for Chan’s sons and daughters and to await the outcome of the appeal.
By Tuesday (June 24), the body of the deceased had begun to decompose. At around 2 p.m. that day, village police and military personnel went to the deceased person’s house, where a gathering was underway, and arrested Kaithong along with Puphet, leader of the Donpalai village church.
About 20 minutes later, authorities returned to the gathering and arrested Muk, leader of Huey village church, Hasadee, leader of Bungthalay village church in Palansai District, and Tiang.
A half later, the village chief led Buddhist monks and relatives of Chan into her house and conducted a Buddhist funeral ceremony, before taking her body to the village cemetery, the HRWLRF representative said. Christians at the gathering left Chan’s house, he said, and went home.
Buddhists make up more than 57 percent of the population of the Communist country, according toOperation World. About 35 percent of the population adheres to indigenous religions, and only 3.4 percent of the population is Christian.
The five accused Christians have been transferred to Atsaphangthong District’s prison.
The incident in Saisomboon village follows a May 20 declaration by the chief of Saisomboon village that three female students had forfeited their right to an education because they had become Christians. The girls, identified only as Nut, 14, and 15-year-olds Noi and Net, were told that they would not be permitted to take exams. Kaithong appealed that case with the Atsaphangthong District education chief, who was negotiating with the Liansai School director seeking permission for the three students to take their exams, according to HRWLRF.
HRWLRF urged the Lao government to respect religious freedom as guaranteed in the Lao constitution and the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Laos in 2009, upholding the right to adopt a religion/belief of choice as well as the right to manifest that religion/belief in a corporate worship (Article 18). Any form of coercion impairing freedom to have and manifest one’s religion/belief of choice is condemned in the ICCPR, the HRWLRF representative said.
The rights organization also urged the Lao government “to punish the village Saisomboon village chief and other officials who acted illegally in obstructing the funeral service according to Mrs. Chan’s religious affiliation, and in arresting Kaithong, Puphet, Muk, Hasadee, and Tiang.”
HRWLRF demanded the immediate release of the incarcerated Christians.