Hmong Christians Killed, Imprisoned in Crackdown

Los Angeles, USA – Soldiers, police and others have killed at least 13 Christians in Laos in the past month in a swarming crackdown on Hmong villagers falsely accused of stirring rebel dissent, sources told Compass.

In the sweep, encouraged by communist village leaders and others who have falsely accused the Christians of being separatist rebels, authorities have arrested and imprisoned about 200 members of a 1,900-strong Laos Evangelical Church in Ban Sai Jarern village, Bokeo province in northwestern Laos.

The hunted Christians are largely Hmong refugees who had fled persecution in Vietnam. Those killed include Hmong who went into hiding when joint forces of Vietnamese and Lao police began rounding up Christians falsely accused of supporting Gen. Vang Pao in August 2006.

Among those killed last month was Neng Mua, a Christian who slipped back to his native Fay village after hiding in the mountains from the police round-up. On July 7 he went to a local villager’s house to beg for food, but his one-time friend instead shot him dead as a suspected member of the “liberation army,” a Christian source said.

Police have searched intensively for Christians in rice fields and mountains and are shooting them on sight, said the source, who requested anonymity.

“Many Christians were killed and badly injured,” he said. “Women and children were arrested and sent to prison.”

On July 8, police shot Seng Wue to death by a roadside after he and other Christians suffering fatigue and hunger had come out of hiding and surrendered, according to Christian sources. The sources heard report of soldiers shooting two other Christians dead at a checkpoint on the road to Don Sawan village, but their names were still unconfirmed.

On July 13, soldiers reportedly shot to death a person resembling Jong Wue Lao, a committee member of the Ban Sai Jarern church. He had escaped authorities on July 3, though his whereabouts were unknown. Soldiers reportedly killed eight to 10 Christians in the incident, but sources said it was unclear whether those deaths included Lao and his companions.

On July 12, police arrested Jue Por Wang, head of the Ban Fay church, and Wang Lee Wang, head of the Ban Sawan church. A Christian source said police forced members of their churches to declare that the leaders and others on police target lists were funded by Vang Pao to train Christians to fight the government.

In May and June, about 100 soldiers from Vietnam, along with authorities from Laos and Vietnam, arrived in Ban Sai Jarern to look for Hmong Vietnamese. There were 600 to 800 Lao soldiers and 200 Vietnam soldiers deployed in Bokeo province as of July, Christian sources said.

Soldiers have secured Ban Sai Jarern and nearby communities and prohibit people from entering or leaving, sources said. As a result of the restrictions, they said, the Ban Sai Jarern church has not been able to meet for worship.

With the area swarming with soldiers and police, many area men fled on July 4 out of fear of further reprisals or imprisonment, sources said. Those who escaped to the mountains have sent word that there is no food; they have resorted to eating banana leaves to survive.

Lao and Vietnamese officials have imprisoned an estimated 52 families from five villages: Ban Sai Jarern, Huay Klay, Fay, Numsamork and Chai Pathana. That is nearly all of the known Hmong families from Vietnam in the greater area, including 30 Hmong families in Ban Sai Jarern.

Hostile to Christians

Members of the Ban Sai Jarern church, which also serves worshippers from Fay and five other villages, said the congregation has never in anyway cooperated with Vang Pao or anyone seeking a separate state.

“We are law-abiding citizens,” one church member said, “and we want to present our case through legal means, not through armed struggle.”

Vietnamese and Lao communist authorities have long been hostile to the Hmong since previous generations aided U.S. forces during the Vietnam War. Associating Christianity with the United States, authorities assume all Hmong Christians support Vang Pao, who fought alongside U.S. soldiers.

“Christianity is not an American religion, it is a universal religion,” said one source. “We are not a political group seeking independence from the present Lao government – on the contrary, we are actively engaged in building a better nation by faithfully adhering to the teachings of the Bible.”

In June, U.S. authorities arrested Vang Pao and nine associates in California over an alleged plot to topple the communist regime in Laos.

Fast-growing churches in Bokeo province, Christian sources said, have drawn the ire of both Lao and Vietnamese governments for providing aid to Christian Hmong refugees from Vietnam and others fleeing persecution in other parts of Laos. Until this past year, they said, the 4,000 Hmong Christians in Bokeo had not faced persecution.

The crackdown in Ban Sai Jarern stems from an August 2006 capture in Vietnam of two Hmong women who had returned from the village to visit parents-in-law and other relatives, sources said. Vietnamese officials sent them to prison but were unable to force them to divulge the locations of other Vietnamese who had fled to Ban Sai Jarern and other villages in Laos.

On October 5, Lao and Vietnamese officers went into Sai Jarern village, seized five leaders of churches in Vietnam who had fled to Laos and sent them back to Vietnam. One of the church leaders, Saoma Lao, is reportedly dead, but area Christians have not confirmed that information. He was chairman of the Christian Church in Geahkoh village in Vietnam before fleeing to Laos.

Christians sources have confirmed that another one of the five Hmong Christian leaders, Jongneng Yang, is alive. But his condition and whereabouts, like that of the other leaders, are unknown. The others missing are Jue Lao, Thayeng Lei and Lei Yang, a church youth leader.

Chaicheng Lee, a teacher and treasurer of the Ban Sai Jarern church, is also missing. Christian sources said police arrested the 38-year-old church leader on July 4 after raiding his home and taking documents containing names of church leaders, members and activities. Area Christians said police were forcing detained believers to declare that Pastor Lee was training Christians funded by Vang Pao to overthrow the government.

Police took Pastor Lee out of prison on July 16, Christian sources said, adding that no one knows where they took him.

Enemies of the Faith

Accusing the Christians of armed rebellion and disclosing their whereabouts are local village heads, communist committee members and others hostile to Christians. Sources said these local opponents urged police to send the Christians to prison.

For every 10 to 15 Christian families in a given village, they said, a local leader monitors their whereabouts and activities, especially when they leave the area. Besides accusing the Christians of joining forces with Vang Pao and being part of an “American religion,” local villagers have charged them with dealing drugs and breaking religion laws.

“We were never engaged in the use or selling of illegal drugs,” said one area Christian. “And even people who want to become Christian after receiving healing, we advise them to first inform the government about their intention to become Christians, and after they receive their permit that’s the only time we accept them.”

Furthermore, he added, the churches secure permits for all large gatherings, and they even invite officials to join their celebrations.

“We appeal to the Lao government to release our imprisoned brothers and sisters, for they are innocent of the charges against them,” he said. “We appeal to the Lao government to grant Christians the freedom to worship God and give them the rights due to them.”

Local Christians, closely monitored by the government, are not allowed to use mobile phones, obtain food or leave the village without permission, a Christian source said.

“All these restrictions are imposed for suspicion that they will contact Gen. Vang Pao and the other Christian escapees,” he said.

Christians are prohibited from worshipping together and fear that police will besiege the church. Area villages are under tight police control. Authorities are still pursuing Christian leaders who escaped and are following closely Christians who go to other villages, sources said.

The Christians said there are about 50 refugees living near the border with Thailand who need food and water; they are “broken because their wives and children are in prison.”