Todd Nettleton with VOM explains, “The focus is on groups of people that gather together. Whether it be for Christian purposes or for political purposes or even like a labor union purpose, the government wants to control who you gather with and what you do during this gatherings. So the focus of the law is not necessarily particularly aimed at religion; however, the concern among the Christians in Laos is it’s going to be used primarily to shut down religious activity and religious expression.”
Laos is a state party to seven core treaties on international human rights. Earlier this year, Laos also participated in their 8th Dialogue on Human Rights and Governance with the European Union and agreed to reinforce human rights. However, this new law is a clear violation of human rights and religious freedom in the country.
“What this means on the ground in Laos is people who want to do religious activities — the people Voice of the Martyrs calls frontline workers carrying the Gospel out to the frontlines — they face more hurdles now because there [are] more people they need to check in with and get permission from if they are going to do this legally. If they don’t do it legally, they are subject to arrest and persecution.”
This law has already been skewed to target religious minorities in Laos, especially in rural areas. Buddhism, the majority religion, is often exempt from the Decree of Association’s meeting requirements.
Laos stands at 20th place on the World Watch List for “very high persecution” of Christians. A large amount of persecution Lao Christians face comes from Communist and Post-communist oppression.
“We would love to see this law overturned,” says Nettleton. “We would love to see more freedom of religion in Laos. But regardless of what the government does, we pray that frontline workers and evangelists will continue to carry forth the Gospel in spite of the hurdles that are being put in front of them.”
You can also call your government officials and stand up for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters in Laos.
“Because this new law really goes against the United Nations’ declarations that the Lao government has signed onto,…this is a time where we can have a voice within our own government to encourage our government officials to ask some hard questions to the Lao government.”
(Header photo courtesy of Voice of the Martyrs Canada)