Vientiane (AsiaNews) - Six Hmong Christian families have been forced to leave their village in central Laos after refusing to renounce their faith, this according to family friends and other members of their ethnic group.
The six families, consisting of 25 people, were driven out of their homes in Ko Hai village, in Khamkeut district, Borikhamxay province, because they would not revert to their ancestral faith. Most residents in the village and neighbouring towns practice traditional religion.
Local sources state that local authorities never accepted the decision of the six families to embrace Christianity and sought every way to have "them revert back to animism".
Witnesses report that village leaders had two men from Hmong families arrested in July and held for at least a month, because they refused to renounce their Christian faith.
Once the men were released, the authorities tried to force them to return to animism, but the Christians refused and were forced to leave their homes.
Between late August and mid-September, local authorities evicted the Christians and seized their homes; however, the story only emerged recently as a result of anonymous complaints by locals.
The six families in question were moved to the village of Hoi Keo, also in Khamkeut District, near the town of Lak Sao.
The situation was made that much worse by the death of one of the elders, the 62-year-old patriarch of one of the families, shortly after he was forced out of his ancestral home and village.
Because of forced relocation, the Christians lost their old homes, land and the few assets at their disposal.
In a second incident, which dates back to early November, seven other members of the Hmong minority - among them a 14-years-old - were arrested in Luang Namtha, northwestern Laos.
In this case as well, people were arrested for converting from animism to Christianity, an act that displeased local authorities. Two who refused to abjure their religion were sent to a provincial prison.
Since the Communists came to power in 1975, and the resulting expulsion of foreign missionaries, the Christian minority in Laos has been under strict controls, its right to worship limited.
In a country of six million people, most people (67 per cent) are Buddhist. Christians make up about 2 per cent of the total, 0.7 per cent Catholic.
Protestant communities have suffered the most from religious persecution, a situation that AsiaNews has documented in the past. Cases include peasants deprived of food for their faith and clergymen arrested by the authorities.
Since April 2011, tighter controls have been imposed, following a violent crackdown against protests led by some groups within the country's Hmong ethnic minority.