Sep 1, 2016
WASHINGTON, D.C. – As President Obama soon will visit Laos to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today urged the President to raise religious freedom concerns in the country.
“As the first U.S. president to visit Laos, President Obama has a unique opportunity to raise directly religious freedom concerns with the Lao government,” said Chair Thomas J. Reese, S.J. “While Laos has myriad human rights challenges, especially troubling are the policies and decrees at the central and local levels of government that restrict religious practices and undermine not only the Lao constitution but also international human rights standards.”
During a February 2016 visit to Laos, USCIRF staff found a mixed picture. Some religious minority groups reported that their improving relations with the government have given them more space in which to practice their faith. However, others continue to experience harassment, forced evictions, pressure to renounce their faith, and detention and imprisonment. The government or a government-aligned body also must give prior approval to most religious activities and practices, including constructing houses of worship, appointing religious personnel, and printing religious materials.
Christians generally experience the most government restrictions and discrimination in this Buddhist-majority nation due to the government’s suspicion of Christianity as “Western” or “American.” In 2015, local authorities detained or threatened with jail several Christians in Khammouane Province. And in Luang Prabang Province, assailants stabbed to death a pastor whom local officials repeatedly pressured to stop preaching and spreading Christianity.
USCIRF placed Laos on its Tier 2 list in its 2016 Annual Report. In Tier 2 countries, the violations the government engages in or tolerates are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of International Religious Freedom Act’s “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” standard. For more information, please refer to the Laos chapter in USCIRF’s 2016 Report (in English and in Lao).
To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at email@example.com or 202-786-0615.