Laos maintains that it does
not force its people to respect any particular religion, adding that Lao people
enjoy religious freedom and are free to practice any faith they choose. The
statement is in response to the U.S. Department of State’s 2008 Religious
Freedom Report alleging that Lao officials reportedly use many measures
to interfere with the rights of the Lao people, especially
those who are ethnic minorities, to practice Christianity.
Lao officials assert that
the government does not force people to believe or not to believe in any
religion. The religious freedom of Lao
citizens is clearly stipulated in Articles 9 and 43 of the Constitution,
maintains Mr. Khaophone Vannabouth, Director General of the Department
of Religious Affairs of the Lao Front for National Construction. According to these legislative rules, Lao
citizens of all ethnicities have freedom to choose to believe or to not to
believe in any faith.
In addition to these religious rules, the
government of Laos prohibits all activities that aim
at luring or forcing Lao citizens to believe or give up their beliefs in any
religions, and protects legitimate activities of believers without
discrimination. These policies also encourage all religious believers, priests
and monks of all religions to participate in activities that are beneficial to
the country’s development, but forbid all activities that aim to create division
in religions and community.
Since 2002, Laos has issued several decrees to protect and promote all religious activities without discrimination. Over four million Lao people currently practice Buddhism. And this ardent and profound belief has resulted in the construction of more than 4,930 temples of all Buddhist sects throughout the country. There are also more than 1.2 million animists. Over 120,000 Laotians practice Christianity, mainly Catholicism, in more than 500 churches. A much smaller number practices Islam in two mosques in the country.
Lao authorities acknowledge, however,
that there have been cases where local officials have persecuted some religious
activists, arresting and detaining some individuals, mostly Christian
believers, in some parts of the country. But that does not mean that the Lao
government or GOL forces them to give up their beliefs in Christianity as
alleged by the United States. The government
is only enforcing its laws and taking appropriate legal actions against Lao
citizens who violate the laws. Thus,
the United States’ allegation that Laos arrested Christians because of their faith and religious practices was baseless.
Listen to Songrit's report for details in Lao.