Updated: May 19, 2021 06:10 AM GMT
Pastor Sithon Thippavong attends a Christian wedding in Savannakhet province in September 2018. The travails of the Laotian pastor drew large-scale attention last year. (Photo: Radio Free Asia)
A Christian pastor who was kept in jail in the communist nation of Laos was made to sign a document before his release promising he will not resume religious activities, a foreign Christian group has learned.
Sithon Thippavong, 35, a Christian leader from the southern province of Savannakhet, was arrested on March 15 last year and convicted the following month by a provincial court on charges of “disrupting unity” and “creating disorder.”
He was released last month after a year in prison, but not before he promised that he would refrain from preaching and organizing Christian religious activities until March next year, according to Open Doors International, a non-denominational mission that supports persecuted Christians worldwide.
On the day of his arrest, Sithon was preparing to hold a religious service when seven police officers showed up and told him to cancel the proceedings.
The officers reportedly asked the Christian man to sign a document renouncing his faith and when Sithon refused, they detained him.
The travails of the Laotian pastor drew large-scale attention last year.
Christians have long been seen as possible fifth-columnists because Christianity has been portrayed in official propaganda as an alien creed imported by foreign invaders and colonialists
The US State Department cited his arrest and subsequent imprisonment as an example of ongoing violations of religious freedoms in Laos where Christians number around 150,000 in a population of 7 million.
“Local sources said the possible charges against him changed from violating Decree 315 to political charges, given what local officials said were Sithon’s connections to foreign powers based largely on previous international travel,” the State Department noted.
In the communist holdout, Christians have long been seen as possible fifth-columnists because Christianity has been portrayed in official propaganda as an alien creed imported by foreign invaders and colonialists.
Christians are routinely victimized in the Buddhist nation, especially in rural communities where they might find themselves expelled over their faith by other villagers.
Last year alone, several Christians were driven from their homes in Laos, while many others felt compelled to practice their faith in secret lest they be similarly victimized.
The plight of these villagers was documented by Christian groups such as Open Doors based on testimonies from locals.
“Christian activities are heavily monitored by the communist authorities, including those of registered churches. Especially in rural areas, house churches are forced to meet underground as they are considered illegal gatherings,” Open Doors explains.
“Life is especially difficult for converts to the Christian faith, who are at risk of persecution from their family and the local authorities. This can involve damage to property, confiscation of possessions and issuing of fines.
“Opposition is heightened when a convert’s family or the local authorities stir up the local community against them, sometimes through local village meetings or by seeking the support of local religious leaders.”
Although Laos’ constitution guarantees the right of Christians to practice their faith unmolested, local authorities around the impoverished countryside in the mountainous nation routinely ignore the law while harassing and persecuting Christians.