Authorities in the Lao province of Salavan chased seven Christians from their homes, forcing them to live in makeshift huts in the woods because they refused to renounce their faith.
Vatican News reports that the Christians were expelled from their homes on Oct. 10 for practicing their faith, even though a national law protects their free exercise of religion.
The Christians were forced to flee to the forest, where they are living without enough food and basic amenities in a small makeshift hut. Despite efforts by family members to provide help to the Christians, village authorities reportedly will not allow relatives or other people to help them.
“Their family members are too scared [to help them] and fear they, too, will be thrown out of their homes if they dare to provide any help,” a local villager told a foreign news agency.
“They have no food or clothing and do not know where to turn for help,” the villager was quoted as saying. “The village authorities will not allow relatives or other people to help them.”
Such cases of discrimination and persecution against Christians are not uncommon in the Buddhist-majority country, where believers comprise just 3% of the population. Voice of the Martyrs notes that in Laos, Christianity is viewed as an American religion or as a tool of the CIA to undermine the Laotian regime.
In December, the country passed a law strengthening the protection of Christians and allowing believers to practice their faith with some restrictions. However, Laotian Christian groups say officials in rural areas have continued to threaten and oppress believers and treat them as second-class citizens.
Open Doors USA, which ranks Laos among countries where it’s most difficult to be a Christian, notes that the country’s Communist government has passed laws that make it difficult to build churches or conduct religious activities.
According to Open Doors, 75% of all government-approved Lao Evangelical Church congregations do not have permanent church structures and are forced to conduct worship services in homes.
Converts to Christianity in Laos face the most severe forms of Christian persecution, as abandoning Buddhism or tribal animist beliefs is seen as a “betrayal to family members and the community,” Open Doors says.
“[Laotians] who choose to follow Jesus are not only rejected by their village and family, but are heavily monitored or, in extreme cases, detained by authorities,” the group adds.
UCA News notes that this year, several Christians were arrested for holding prayer services, with police in the Southeast Asian country accusing them of breaking local norms.
Christians who are jailed are often held indefinitely without proper legal representation or in some cases, subjected to “re-education” sessions to force them to renounce their faith.
Additionally, Christians are denied basic government services, such as help during floods and droughts, if they refuse to renounce their faith.
Christian Aid Mission, which provides aid to persecuted Christians, reported that in February, 13 Christian villagers were denied help during a prolonged drought.
“Local officials tried to force them to sign confessions and leave the village — twice — which they refused to do because they had nowhere to go,” the aid group reported.
“The government wants to give special assistance to the people, but the village headman did not give any to the Christians,” a local Christian told Christian Aid Mission. “They are waiting until they renounce their faith.”
As one of the five remaining Marxist-Leninist countries in the world, Laos is “strictly opposed to any influence deemed foreign or Western,” Open Doors says, urging Christians worldwide to “pray for increased openness and acceptance toward Christianity and for progress in religious freedom.”