Published: 00:00 GMT Standard Time - Friday 04 March 2011
Expelled Christian families face starvation in Laos
Country/Region: Lao, People's Democratic Republic
Christian families who were previously driven from their Laos village at gunpoint for refusing to give up their faith now face starvation as local authorities destroy their crops and prevent food from reaching the group.
The 18 families - around 65 people - have been living in a temporary camp outside Katin village, Ta-Oyl district, Saravan province, since they were forced out in two separate incidents last year. They were threatened with death by village officials if they returned to their homes - even if they were moved back by the government.
They have lacked adequate shelter, food and water since their expulsion, but their state is now even more desperate. Village officials are refusing to allow the Christians to enter the village to farm their land, while an area that had been farmed around the camp has been destroyed. They have instructed families in the surrounding villages not to help or provide food for the group, who also lack access to sanitation facilities and medical treatment.
The Christians reportedly believe that these tactics are an attempt to starve them into giving up their faith.
At first 11 Christian families were expelled from the village last January after enduring months of harassment, threats, confiscation of livestock and property, and detention. They were told they would be allowed to return only if they abandoned their Christian beliefs. In December, a further seven families of new converts to Christianity were also driven out. One man from the group has died.
Government officials have met with the families to discuss their returning to Katin; the Christians agreed if five conditions were met, including the ceasing of all anti-Christian persecution. But village officials refused to accept the conditions, threatening that if the authorities moved the displaced Christians back against the will of the other villagers, they would shoot every returning believer.
Although the Lao constitution protects freedom of religion, implementation of this commitment at a local level can be arbitrary. The district head of Ta-Oyl has reportedly stated that he does not allow Christianity in his territory.