By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
Christianity is spreading in Laos villages.
VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)-- Four church leaders and another Christian detained in southern Laos have been charged with "murder" because they prayed for a woman who embraced Christianity shortly before she died, a well-informed source told BosNewsLife Thursday, June 26.
Authorities in Savannakhet Province charged church leaders Kaithong, Puphet, Muk, Hasadee and fellow Christian Tiang "this morning [Thursday]...with murder of the deceased Mrs. Chan," said Sirikoon Prasertsee, director of watchdog 'Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom' (HRWLRF).
In Laos, local Christians often use only one name. The five were initially detained Tuesday, June 24, after attempting to organize a Christian funeral service in the provincial Saisomboon village for Chan, who died this weekend.
"She suddenly passed away on June 22...Police authorities charged Kaithong and the other four Christians because she passed away."
He said the real reason behind the detention was an official crackdown on spreading Christianity in rural areas of this Communist-led Asian nation.
Shortly before her death, "After being ill for two years of an unknown condition and visiting different [traditional] healers, she asked Kaithong, the leader of the local Saisomboon village church and the congregation, to pray for her," Prasertsee recalled.
"She apparently became well for a short time and embraced the Christian faith," he explained. "I believe that authorities are trying to find every way to stop the spread of Christian religious freedom in the area."
Chan was eventually buried by Buddhist monks after authorities reportedly refused to allow Christians to bury her. She leaves behind a Christian family.
Besides Chan, "all her eight sons and daughters began embracing the Christian faith in April, four of whom are married," HRWLRF said earlier. Chan’s family became the fifth family in Saisomboon village to "embrace the Christian faith".
They can expect more opposition, rights activists warned. "Being one of the five remaining Marxist-Leninist countries in the world, Christians in Laos face opposition both from the Communist party, who consider them to be ‘foreign agents’, and from local Buddhist leaders," said Open Doors, a group supporting "persecuted Christians".
Buddhist leaders, it said, "believe that Laos and Buddhism belong inextricably together and want to keep their country ‘pure’." Especially Christians from tribal areas are arrested, detained and pressured "to renounce their faith" and some are known to have been killed, according to Open Doors and other sources.
Church activities require government permission, but Christians claim authorities rarely give consent. Only a limited number of registered Christian congregations are allowed to operate in this heavily Buddhist nation of nearly 7 million people.
Christians comprise roughly 1.5 percent of the population, according to estimates by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).