Catholic priest in 30 years, human rights investigators said Tuesday, December 13.

The France based Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR) said authorities withdrew permission for the ceremony, which was scheduled to take place Thursday, December 8, at Vientiane’s small Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.

Lao Priest, Somphone Vilavongsy, 32, would have been the first church leader to be openly ordained since 1975 when Lao authorities began expelling foreign missionaries while stepping up control over churches.

However the "military was deployed around" the church, located in the Simuang district "where the ceremony was to be held," LMHR told BosNewsLife. It said "this unilateral decision of the authorities again shows the double language of the Lao dictatorial regime as regards freedoms and human rights."


The LMHR claimed that the Lao government had made "reassuring remarks and promises intended for the international community and the donators on the one side" although "daily violations of the rights of the Lao people and wild repression against the religious and ethnic minorities of the country" continued.
The group stressed "this sad event" was "only the visible part of the sufferings that the Lao Catholic community has been enduring for thirty years. Before the taking of power by the authoritative regime in 1975, the Lao Catholics could freely practise their faith on the whole territory of the former Lane Xang Kingdom."
Human rights workers say recent persecution includes the shutting down of churches and Christian institutions as well as the seizures of properties and the arrests of church leaders and the monitoring of Christian villages.


BosNewsLife learned in Laos this summer that several evangelical Christians are still detained, after security forces raided villages.

"Those detained include two village guards, a father and a son, who are already three months in jail because they refuse to give up Christianity," said a leader of a growing underground evangelical church movement. He spoke on condition of anonymity as in his words "giving negative information to a foreigner can mean 15-years in jail."
He said village families his movement knows "disappeared" while others have been tortured. Since the latest reported crackdown began four months ago, his movement has been busy contacting persecuted Christians.


"We know of several incidents near the Vietnam border where Laos police raided villages and forced locals to stand for three days with their hands in the air till they renounced their faith in Christ. Nobody is able to keep up with that kind of torture for so long…," the church leader added.

Those who refused to obey were allegedly imprisoned. He says his organization knows of up to six Christians still in jail. They "include two brothers" who were sentenced to 15 years in prison about six years ago, while a another Christian man serving time with them died in recent years, he said.  

Christian Freedom International (CFI), another Christian human rights group, claimed the situation worsened since the government issued Prime Minister’s Decree 92 on the "Administration and Protection of Religious Practice" in an apparent attempt to rule on "the rapidly growing Christian faith" in the Asian nation.


But the administration of Prime Minister Bounnhang Vorachith claims the legislation has meant a breakthrough for religious liberty in the country as it "establishes rules" for religious activities in  a broad range of areas. CFI disagrees. "While touting to the outside world a major breakthrough in religious liberty, in reality Decree 92 was a government crackdown on Christianity," it said in a position paper.  The import of Bibles are also banned, advocacy group Christian Freedom International (CFI) said. 

The LMHR stressed the developments are part of "acts of intimidation, humiliation, threats, physical and moral pressure, with the aim of forcing Christians to renounce their faith", which is seen as a threat to the Communist ideology.

It urged the Lao government "to authorize without any condition the ordination" of Priest Vilavongsy and "to allow the Lao Catholics to celebrate this religious ceremony, including in Ban Kengsadok near Paksane in the Bolikhamsay province, where the future priest was born."


The human rights group said the United States to once again list Laow as one of the Countries of Particular Concern regarding religious freedom, alongside Vietnam and China.
The Lao authorities, the LMHR said, should comply with a European Parliament resolution adopted  nanimously in September, which calls for the respect of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, and the putting into place "as soon as possible of all the reforms necessary to the democratization of the country".

Christians comprise at least 1.5 percent of the population, while 60 percent are Buddhists, according to estimates. (With exclusive reports from BosNewsLife in Laos).


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