During his four-day visit to Laos and meeting with Standing Deputy Prime Minister Somsavad Lengsavath, in late October 2008, Mr. Robert Seiple, President of the US private organization Council for America’s First Freedom, suggests that Laos hosts the 2009 International Conference on Law and Religions in Vientiane, saying he believes that by doing so Laos’ image will be improved in the international community’s perception of the religious freedom situation in Laos. It will counter the allegations made in the recently-released U.S. Department of State’s 2008 Religious Freedom Report, which states that Lao officials reportedly use many measures to interfere with the rights of the Lao people, especially ethnic minorities. Mr. Seiple concludes that therefore, he hopes that Lao officials will accept this suggestion.
In response to the US allegations, the Lao ministry of Foreign Affairs recently asserts that Lao citizens' religious freedom is fully protected under the national constitution, which stipulates that Lao people of all ethnicity have freedom to choose to believe or not to believe in any faith. In addition, it maintains that all religions in Laos receive an equal respect and protection in front of the laws without discrimination. At the same time, Laos asserts that while it respects the preaching principles of all religions, it does not allow any religious preaching to be in conflict with the state’s and party’s policies.
This assertion is reflected in a recent statement by Mr. Mr. Khaophone Vannabouth, Director General of the Department of Religious Affairs of the Lao Front for National Construction, who said that the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party prohibits all activities that aim at luring or forcing Lao citizens to believe in any religion or give up their beliefs. These policies also encourage all religious believers to unite and align their religious principles and practices with the national development trend and the party’s policies. In the past, there have been cases where some ethnic-minority individuals were arrested and detained. Mr. khaophone says those were just instances of the government enforcing the nation’s laws and taking appropriate legal actions against Lao citizens who violate the laws. Such interventions are by no means related to their beliefs in any religion whatsoever.
Currently, over four million Lao people 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. Over 120,000 Laotians practice Christianity, mainly Catholicism, in more than 552 churches, while more than 1.2 million people are animists. In addition, there are approximately 10,000 people practices other religions, especially Islam. This situation makes Mr. Seiple finds that the protection of religious freedom in Laos has been increasingly improved.
Listen to Songrit's report for Lao translation.