Laos’ approximately 150,000 Christians are targeted at both local and government level. While Buddhists enjoy comparative religious freedom, local officials are typically highly suspicious of Christians, partly because of a perceived connection with the West, and subject them to harassment and violence. The communist central government imposes tight restrictions on religious activity. Christians living in large cities are generally acknowledged and respected, but in rural areas they are often abused, evicted from their homes and even imprisoned and sometimes tortured.
In December 2019, a “Law on the Evangelical Church” came into force giving Christians the right to conduct services, preach throughout the country and maintain contacts with believers in other countries, but churches must fund their own operations. To make the law more widely known in areas of persecution, in particular remote rural areas, Christian communities worked with the government to provide seminars.
Despite the new law, rural Christians were still abused in 2020. Seven Christian families (about 25 people) were evicted from their village in Luang Namtha Province, and seven Christians in Salavan Province were thrown out of their homes and had to live in the forest, with relatives and other villagers forbidden to help them. Both groups had refused to renounce their faith.
Religious organisations are required by law to register with the government, but some churches are unable to meet the onerous registration requirements. Approval is required before importing printed or electronic literature. Local authorities sometimes ban house churches and confiscate Bibles, even from those belonging to registered churches.
A 2017 decree prohibited “associations” from disturbing the “social order” or “national harmony”. The vagueness of the wording means authorities are free to define what constitutes threatening “social order”.
Laos is one of the poorest countries in south-east Asia. Around 80% of the seven million population, which is mainly Buddhist, work in agriculture.
Pray for believers in Laos that they will continue to share the Gospel of Christ, knowing that the Lord is with them. Pray that the “Law on the Evangelical Church” will become widely known and applied.
The above content can also be found in the Praying for the Persecuted Church (2021-2022) booklet