(ADDS MORE CASES OF FORCED RITUALS, BACKGROUND)
By BosNewsLife Asia Service
VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)– Authorities in southern Laos pressure three jailed pastors and other Christians to participate in occult rituals and recant their faith in Jesus Christ, a religious advocacy group said Thursday, October 18.
Among those targeted are Pastors Bounlert, Adang and Onkaew, who are held in the regional prison of Savannakhet Province since September 17, though local officials called their detention “not justified”, explained Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
Last week, authorities ordered that the pastors, who each use only one name, “be escorted back to their their villages” in the province’s Phin district, but family members waited in vain, added HRWLRF Director Sirikoon Prasertsee.
Instead, the non-Christian village chief and elders demanded Thursday, October 18, that Pastor Bounlert and other believers in his Alowmai village “be subjected to an animistic, spirit-cult ritual” which involves taking an oath with “sacred water”, Prasertsee told BosNewsLife.
If they refuse the ceremony, the six Christian families in Allowmai village will be forced to leave, said Prasertsee, who has close contacts with the Christians.
The threats were expected to add to pressure on the three jailed pastors, who reportedly refused to participate in a similar occult ritual, saying that would betray their Christian faith.
Christian leaders claim authorities want “to force Christians to recant their faith because they were unsuccessful in taking legal actions against them,” Prasertsee explained.
The pastors “are being kept further in the Phin district prison and additionally subjected to hardship, harassment, and threats until now” as “district police authorities are seeking for more evidence to charge them,” he said.
The three pastors have reportedly told local authorities that they have a constitutional right to be Christians in Laos.
Phin district and Allowmai village authorities reportedly said they have to undergo rituals that confirm the country’s “traditional” religion.
Similar incidents were also reported in elsewhere in the same district, including in Kengsaiyai village. Over 150 Christian residents from Kensaiyvai and nearby villages and some 70 non-Christian families were summoned by local authorities Friday, October 19, to participate in occult rituals, include drinking what locals called “sacred water”, HRWLRF said.
“Christians were required to sign documents as a proof that they have resubmitted themselves to the spirits through the ceremony and have renounced Christ,” stressed HRWLRF Director Prasertsee.
Christian villagers reportedly refused to take part, despite threats they would face deportation.
Earlier this month, some 13 Christian families in the region’s Seekaew village were reportedly asked to undergo “traditional animistic rituals”. They refused despite threats by local authorities that they would otherwise have to leave the village and that their homes
would be destroyed, rights activists said.
That stand-off later apparently ended with a district chief backing down, saying all religions would be accepted in the village.
The HRWLRF said in a statement it had urged the Lao government “to respect the right of Pastors Bounlert, Adang and Onkaew to adhere to any religion of choice as guaranteed under the Lao constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was ratified by the Lao government.”
The group urged the government to release the pastors “immediately and unconditionally.”
It comes amid a wider reported crackdown on devoted Christians and growing churches in rural
villages of Laos, a Communist-run nation.