(ADDS REPORTS ABOUT EXPELLED CHRISTIANS FROM HOME)
By BosNewsLife Asia Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
VIENTIIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)– Police in northern Laos have detained a pastor “for attracting people to the Christian faith” as part of a wider crackdown on evangelism in the region, a representative told BosNewsLife Saturday, June 9.
Pastor Asa, 53, was reportedly arrested Wednesday, June 6, at his home in Peeyeur village in the Sing district of Luang Namtha province.
“He is still in jail,” confirmed Sirikoon Prasertsee, the director of Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF), a major advocacy group working in the area.
Lao authorities reportedly transported him to Luang Namtha provincial prison, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) from his home village.
The detention comes a week after Lao authorities released six Thai Christians, who were also detained in Luang Namtha province on March 24 for their involvement in the spreading of the Christian faith,” Prasertsee told BosNewsLife.
Pastor Asa, who uses one name, is the leader of the evangelical Peeyeur Village Church in Peeyeur village, with some 115 Christian villagers, and supervises over a dozen other congregations, Lao believers said.
He and five other family members belong to the Akkia tribe, which has seen a growing number of churches, according to HRWLRF investigators.
“Both Sing and Rong districts have 15 Akka tribal churches and Pastor Asa is serving as their leader,” the group said.
Pastor Asa’s case is linked to an incident two years ago when he was detained and allegedly forced to sign a declaration that he “would neither share nor lead people to accept” Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, Christians said.
“However, in this year, he has seen many people accepting the Christian faith as a result of his witness,” explained HRWLRF.
Pastor Khamla, who traveled to meet with provincial police, was reportedly told that police charged Pastor Asa “for leading people to receive the Christian faith.”
A local Christian leader suggested that the “provincial authorities are behind the order of Pastor Asa’s arrest.”
“Local church leaders also strongly believe that the Lao government wants to eliminate Christianity in Luang Namtha province” and other areas of Laos, Prasertsee added.
That also impact families. An 18-year-old son and 20-year-old daughter were recently expelled from their home because of their Christian faith, said investigators of advocacy group Voice Of the Martyrs USA. “When their mother became extremely ill, village elders claimed that the spirits were displeased because the two Christian children were living in the house. An older son tried to persuade his brother and sister to recant their faith, but they refused,” the group said.
“Their mother then accused them of hating their older brother and wishing him dead. She threw their belongings out of the house and told them to leave. The two siblings immediately moved to a Christian village where they originally heard the gospel, where they were welcomed with open arms,” VOMC said, adding that it had urged Christians to pray for the family.
There about 200,000 devoted Christians in the Communist-run Asian nation, where most of the 6.4 million people are Buddhists, according to Christian estimates.
Lao officials are not known to have commented on the case.
The HRWLRF said it has urges the Lao government to “respect Lao Christians’ freedom to manifest their religion or belief” as “guaranteed by the Lao constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was ratified by the Lao government.”
Analysts say Christianity in Laos is generally perceived as a Western ideology that challenges the ruling Communist establishment.