04/02/2021 Laos (International Christian Concern) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Laotian authorities to release a Christian pastor who was arrested by the authorities after he refused to cease worship early last year.
In early 2020, Pastor Sithong Theppavong started a small church on his farm in Sinakbouly District, Savannakhet Province. His ministry caught the local authorities’ attention and soon he faced opposition and received warnings several times to cease his ministry. He refused to comply and was accused of conducting religious services without permission.
According to UCA News, Phil Robertson, deputy director in the Asia-Pacific region of Human Rights Watch, said that Sithon’s continued detention constitutes “a serious human rights violation” and the pastor should immediately be released.
“Lao authorities should release Pastor Sithon and apologize for arresting and detaining him,” Robertson told Radio Free Asia’s Lao Service earlier this week. “In general, the authorities should not violate the rights and freedom of those who believe in religion,” he added.
UCA News reports that Sithon worked as a preacher in the village of Kalum Vangkhea until his arrest, which gathered international attention. No official explanation was given for his arrest at the time, but a local in his village told a foreign news agency that the pastor was arrested “for teaching religion.”
Sithon was initially sentenced to six months in prison and members of his family were barred from visiting him in what foreign rights activists deemed a severe violation of his rights. ICC also reported on the ongoing harassment of his wife and her motorbike was also taken away from her.
Eric Blievernicht from Vision Beyond Borders, a US-based Christian organization that partners with ICC, expressed dismay at the pastor’s ongoing “extrajudicial imprisonment by the Lao government.”
“[We] are concerned he is not being treated well or fairly by his jailers,” Blievernicht said. “We ask for prayers for Pastor Thippavong and call upon the Lao government to release him and respect religious liberty for all its citizens.” The jailed pastor is scheduled to be tried next week.