PRAY: Pastor in Laos tortured, brutally murdered
An evangelical pastor in southern Laos whose body was recently found mutilated has been tortured and brutally murdered, according to police and local and national evangelical leaders.
Sources close to the police investigation said ReligionUnplugged.com they believe See – he had a name – was killed because of his faith at a time of rapid growth in Lao churches. The number of baptisms causes tension in communities wary of a religion they consider foreign.
Officially called the Lao People’s Democratic Republic since 1975, the country bordering Thailand, Myanmar and China is a socialist and authoritarian one-party state. About 60% of Laos’ 6.8 million people are Buddhist, and the worship of ancestors and spirits is closely tied to their worldview. Laos is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, but also one of the fastest growing economies in East Asia and the Pacific, according to the World Bank. The majority of Laotians still depend on subsistence agriculture.
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Targeted for his faith
On October 20, Pastor See was due to attend a meeting with local Christians but did not arrive at the scene, a two-hour drive from his village.
When See failed to show up for the meeting, more than 20 people, including friends and family, searched for him on the mountain pass near his village and the local hospital, but did not find him. found no sign of accident or him. See leaves behind a wife and eight children, the youngest being only one year old.
Like many in Laos, See made a living as a subsistence farmer. In 2015, See and her family turned away from their animist beliefs and embraced Christianity. Soon tensions escalated when village authorities and local police claimed that Christianity was incompatible with their traditional beliefs and cultural practices. See and other Christians were denied fundamental rights, such as access to drinking water.
In 2018, See’s faith was tested when local police handcuffed him and detained him at the village school for three days because he was holding a Sunday church service at his home. He was accused of organizing an “unlawful assembly” after services at his home had lasted for more than three years. In Laos, even peaceful gatherings are restricted and monitored to discourage government dissent. See was released after the provincial police – who oversee the village and district police – were notified and a fine was paid.
Authorities also tried to force See to sign an affidavit recanting her faith because they were concerned about church growth and did not want the ‘foreign religion of Jesus’ to interfere with local idol and spirit worship. . In recent months, See has been repeatedly followed and threatened by some of his relatives and neighbors with disastrous consequences if he continues to share his Christian faith.
Local Christians found See’s body three days after she disappeared. A passerby found her body in a ditch off a jungle road, then uploaded photos to Facebook. See’s body showed signs of torture. He was severely disfigured.
See’s Bible was found near his body and his motorcycle was found nearby on the road.
Local Christians reported that a black van without license plates was parked on the main road that See took to get to the meeting.
On Monday, October 24, several leaders of the Lao Evangelical Church and members of its congregation attended the funeral, despite fear and persecution. The Lao church asked people not to send money to protect the family from unwanted attention.
Growing Dangers for Laotian Christians
Christian leaders in Laos say this is a dangerous time for believers because the church is growing rapidly. In 2021, during the COVID-19 lockdown, local ministry leaders planted more than 60 churches and claim to have baptized thousands. Many local leaders in Laos say they are being watched and fear for their lives.
“All believers still love God and are determined to follow him,” said a local official who is part of Pastor See’s church. ReligionUnplugged.com.
“We cry but not like those who are hopeless,” said a Lao national leader. “We know that in Christ we are secure. Attacks like this have happened before in our country, and every time the kingdom of God has grown. Ultimately, nothing can stop the growth of the church.
Police opened an investigation into the incident and questioned Christian leaders for three hours. Police officials have admitted that See was killed because of his faith and are trying to blame local officials at the district level rather than the provincial level.
“No words can describe the pain See’s family and local churches are going through,” said a Lao evangelical leader. “The great injustice of the whole situation is that people in positions of authority were directly or indirectly involved in See’s murder.”
Religious freedom in Laos
Persecution of Christians in Laos has increased over the past two years, especially in the south of the country.
Christians in rural areas are viewed with suspicion and are arbitrarily detained, harassed and expelled from their villages and have their property confiscated for refusing to renounce their faith. Local officials often turn a blind eye to abuse, with government officials denying that Christians suffer from discrimination or violence.
In February 2021, 12 members of a Christian family in southern Laos were attacked and driven from their home in Dong Savanh by villagers. The family had already been expelled from their village in 2017. That same month, Cha Xiong, a leader of the Hmong Christian community, was shot and killed by an unknown man as he was returning home. His body was found on the side of a street by a villager the next day. Local authorities say they still have no suspects in the case.
A month later, the pastor Sithon Thippavong, a Lao leader in Savannakhet, was arrested for refusing to sign a document renouncing his Christian faith and was subsequently imprisoned for a year for “disrupting unity” and “creating disorder”.
In October 2020, authorities evicted and destroyed the homes of seven Christians in Ta Oy district, Saravan province, who refused to recant their faith.
Two years earlier, four Lao Christians and three Christian leaders had been detained for seven days in the Phin district of Savannakhet for celebrating Christmas “without permission”.
The Lao constitution guarantees citizens the right to “believe or disbelieve in religions” in article 43. The government officially recognizes four religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and the Baha’i faith – but favors the Buddhism.
The Ministry of Interior and the Lao Front for National Development strictly regulate all religious institutions. Christianity is often considered a Western religion and is closely guarded.
In 2019, the Lao government issued Decree 315 on religious freedom: “All Lao citizens have equal rights before the law regarding belief or non-belief in religion, as stipulated in the constitution, law and regulations of the Lao PDR”. However, this is largely ignored in rural areas where persecution of Christians is common.
See’s murder took place even though the Global Engagement Institute sponsored seminars on religious freedom with the Lao National Construction Front to foster greater understanding and tolerance of religious freedom. “The government no longer orchestrates the persecution, but it still continues at the local level,” said a former international worker who lived in Laos and wishes to remain anonymous.
The editors of Religion Unplugged know the identity of the journalist and grant anonymity for security reasons.