By Martin Surridge – Just a short entry this week. My apologies to those who were looking for an Article18 post last week. As a teacher, the end of May can be rather hectic, which is why this is the first post since the end of April. I wish I had the opportunity to do more in regards to religious liberty in the classroom this year, but as an English teacher it doesn’t come up as much as it might in a social studies class. Although last year’s piece we did on the reaction students had to religious liberty in the Merchant of Venice makes me want to revisit that play next school year. This year in my class we did focus on the news media and journalism and the importance of paying attention to news stories that actually matter, stories where people are suffering in other parts of the world–places like Laos.
This week for Article18 we’re profiling Laos, predictably for all the wrong reasons. The small, land-locked country won’t be winning any prizes for religious toleration this year. One of the few genuinely communist countries left in the world, Laos is part of South-East Asia, a region of the world we have covered several times this year. We have profiled the troubles facing both Christians and Muslims in Thailand, Islamic extremism in Indonesia, and now religious persecution in Laos is also in the news.
With some old-fashioned totalitarian cooperation from their communist neighbor Vietnam, the military of Laos cracked down on protesters last month killing four Christian women. The tragic incident, which is described on the Canadian blog Voice of the Martyrs, began with the confiscating of Bibles and the rape of at least two women by the soldiers who would later execute them.
Laos is on the American government’s watch list of countries that are suspected of serious religious liberty violations. On both sides of the Vietnam–Laos border, Christians, particularly those belonging to the Hmong ethnic group, are persecuted for practicing their religion and their lives are frequently in danger.
In a Herald Times Reporter article online, “Thongchanh Boulum of the United League for Democracy in Laos Inc. told of life under an authoritarian regime. He said those in charge ‘rely on violence and terror to gain and maintain power. They use lies to justify violence.’ The people, Boulum said, ‘have no right of expression, no right of assembly – nothing at all.'”
Laos might not be occupying the central slot on the evening news this week, but spare a thought for those suffering in tragic circumstances in a challenging part of the world. This issue probably won’t be resolved in the near future and will most likely be revisited by Article18 later this year.