By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)– Lao authorities have jailed four Christians, including two Thai citizens, in northern Laos after they were caught explaining the Bible to at least one Lao man, their supporters told BosNewsLife Saturday.
Thai Christians Jonasa Wiwatdamrong, 54, and his brother Phanthakorn, 40, were among those detained June 16 in the village of Luang Namtha Phone Sampan in the Long District of Luang Namtha province, added Sirikoon Prasertsee, director of Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
The names of the two Lao citizens were not immediately released.
They were taken into custody while visiting a Christian home in the village where a man reported them to local police, according to HRWLRF investigators.
The man allegedly went to police because he was upset after seeing Jonasa “explaining the Bible” to another man.
“When the police arrived, they searched their bags and found Compact Disks with Bible stories and a small black and white picture book of Bible stories. Thus, the police took their passports,” HRWLRF said in a statement to BosNewsLife.
“Later in the evening, the police came back to arrest them and transported them to Long district prison” and later “transferred [them] to Luang Namtha province prison,” the group added.
It said it was concerned about their treatment. “They were taken to the provincial prison within 36 hours after their arrest without any investigation or charges being made,” HRWLRF said, adding that this violated normal procedures.
Additionally, “All personal belongings, including money, phones and personal possessions, were confiscated,” it added.
Their families are trying to care for the four prisoners “since Lao prisons do not provide adequate care [and] it is up to family members to provide food,” the rights group explained.
Yet, these efforts have been made difficult as so far “Lao authorities have not allowed any contact with those four Christians,” HRWLRF, claimed.
Lao officials were not known to have commented. It was not clear whether Thailand’s embassy in Laos had been able to intervene.
Christians suggested that this is part of a wider crackdown because Luang Namtha officials have reportedly expressed theit intention to “eliminate Christianity” in the province.
“Local believers in at least fifteen villages in Luang Namtha have all shared” similar stories “of persecution at the hands of the Lao authorities,” HRWLRF said.
The group said it has urged the Lao government to respect religious freedom and to release the Christians.
Their reported detention follows news Friday, June 22, that authorities in southern Laos dismissed two members of a village security force because they and their families “accepted the Christian faith.”
Christian converts Khamsorn and Tonglai were told to leave the force of Alowmai village in Savannakhet province’s Phin District, last week, June 14, according to rights investigators.
Lao government officials have reportedly expressed concerns that there are an estimated 200,000 devoted Christians in the Communist-run Asian nation, where most of the 6.4 million people are Buddhists.