By BosNewsLife News Center
VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife) -- A village church in Laos that once had nearly 2,000 members has shrunk to only a few dozen daring to attend, amid a deadly government crackdown on local believers accused of being "separatist rebels," a Christian news agency reported Thursday, October 11.
Most of the leaders of the Laos Evangelical Church in Ban Sai Jarern village in Bokeo province in northwestern Laos are still imprisoned, said Compass Direct News, which investigates reports of persecution.
In addition many other believers, including women and children, are still in prison, local Christian sources said, although estimates of the number detained were apparently unavailable. Only up to 30 believers still meet, three months after government forces detained 200 Hmong Christians "falsely" accused of being separatist rebels were, Compass Direct News said.
â€œThe men are either still in hiding for fear of being arrested, or are still imprisoned or under house arrest, and many are still fearful to come out of their homes to worship in church," a Christian source said, apparently on condition of anonymity because of security fears. "There is only a small number who dared to come to church on Sunday."
Police and other security forces killed at least 13 Christians in the region since July, an unprecedented number in the area, which observers said had been free of both separatist activity and government interference in churches. But last year, sources said, authorities pursued Hmong who had fled religious or political persecution in Vietnam and had taken refuge in Ban Sai Jarern.
Laos is a Communist-run nation where evangelical Christians have been detained in several areas, BosNewsLife established. An official of an underground evangelical church told BosNewsLife in Laos earlier that Christians villagers have been tortured and detained. Some reportedly died while being imprisoned in recent years.
Compass Direct News quoted sources as saying that assistant pastor Chaicheng Lee and three other lay leaders â€“ Chaijuer Han, Neng Han and Song Yeah Lao â€“ are still being held in a Bokeo prison, and Song Yeah Lao was reportedly very ill. Their wives and children, who were arrested at the time of crackdown, have been released and are at home, but their movements are "highly restricted," the report said.
Another lay leader, Jong Tor Song, who was arrested and imprisoned together with Pastor Lee and others, has been sent back to Vietnam with his 14-year-old daughter. In Vietnam, he had been sentenced to seven years in prison. His wife and other children were scheduled to be deported to Vietnam around October 1, though it could not be confirmed if that schedule held, Compass Direct News said.
Zaihue Yang, an army doctor from Huay Sai village who was arrested on July 3, remains imprisoned. He has been separated from other prisoners or has been isolated, possibly in chains. Sources reported that Jue Por Wang, head of the Ban Fay church, and Wang Lee Wang, head of the Ban Sawan church, both of whom were arrested on July 12, have been released.
On August 7, Neng Moua, a Vietnamese Christian Hmong who slipped back to his native Fay village after hiding in the mountains, was reportedly shot dead by a friend suspecting that he was a member of the separatist rebels. After his death, his family, including his wife and mother, reportedly tried to escape Laos by crossing the Mekong River to reach Thailand.
On August 21, when the boat they had rented was still just a few feet away from the Laos shore, police spotted them and shouted at the boatman to stop. The boatman panicked and jumped into the river, and the boat capsized in the ensuring panic, Compass Direct News said. Some passengers drowned, but Mouaâ€™s wife and mother survived and were arrested by the Laos police, witnesses said. Authorities reportedly deported them to Vietnam where they await an uncertain future.
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