Worthy News Asia Service
NOMSOMBOON, LAOS (Worthy News)-- Christians in a village of Laos' Borikhamxay province were without a church building Tuesday, April 14, as police destroyed their property as part of a crackdown on Christians in rural areas, Worthy News learned.
Compass Direct News, a Christian news agency, said security forces destroyed the church building in Nomsomboon village on March 19, while Christian residents attended a meeting called by district officials.
"A member of the provincial religious affairs department, identified only as Bounlerm, has since claimed that police destroyed the worship facility because it was built without official approval," the news agency said.
Tension between Christians and local authorities reportedly escalated last year when officials ordered at least 40 Christian families living in Ban Mai village to relocate some 20 kilometers (12 miles) to Nonsomboon for “administrative reasons,” advocacy group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) said.
Local sources said the forced relocation to Nonsomboon village was an effort to control the activities of Christians in Ban Mai who were sharing their faith with other people in the district.
It comes amid concerns among Christians about reports that authorities have evicted Christians from several other villages in the district. Families were expected to cover their own relocation expenses, including the cost of rebuilding their homes and re-establishing their livelihoods, Compass Direct News reported.
Initially residents reportedly refused to relocate a second time, mainly because officials would not grant permission to move their existing church building or to erect a new structure in Nonsomboon. Eventually they were forced to move to Nonsomboon under duress, Compass Direct News added
Lacking worship facilities, the villagers on December 10, last year erected a simple church building, but sixteen days later village police removed the cross from the building, Christians said. Police apparently also summoned four key church leaders to a meeting and subsequently detained them for building a church without government approval.
HRWLRF identified the four only as pastor Bounlard, assistant pastor Khampeuy, church elder Khampon and men’s ministry leader Jer. When the wives of the four men brought food to them during their detention, officials allegedly refused to allow them to see their
The Christians were eventually released, but following a "campaign of intimidation" the church building was destroyed by village police on March 19. Officials have not yet commented on the latest developments.
However Christians in the area have told BosNewsLife previously that the Communist government is concerned about the spread of Christianity.