Laos is a Tier 2 Country, meaning that the government engages in or tolerates systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom, but not to the level of a Tier 1 country. It is a communist state with the main religion being Buddhism (around 67%). Out of 6.5 million people, 187,000 are Christian and the remaining are unspecified, local, animist religions.
The threats to Christians in Laos stem from communist oppression and religious militancy. The loyal communists believe Christians to be foreign agents that are against the government. Although the government protects the rights of Christians on paper, it does not do so in deed. Conducting church activities requires government consent but the government rarely gives it. There are a limited amount of registered Christian churches that are permitted to have services. Ethnic minority Protestants seem to bear the brunt of much of this, reporting detentions, surveillance, harassment, property confiscations, forced relocations, and forced renunciations of faith.
Many times, Christians are excluded from public decision-making, have little access to higher education, and little access to government job promotions.
Buddhist leaders believe that Laos and Buddhism are intertwined and it is the duty of Buddhists to keep their country pure. Christians are arrested, detained, and pressured to renounce their faith. Some are even killed. Many Christians flee their villages in an effort to save their lives. Some villages have even attempted to ban Christianity and expel Christians.
Currently, the US is convolved with providing small economic assistance in public health development and counter-narcotics programs. Significant support has been given to deal with clearance, removal, and assistance for survivors of unexploded ordinance. The US also provides a small religious freedom training program for Lao officials.
The US exports diamonds, metals, aircraft, vehicles and agricultural products to Laos while it imports apparel, chemicals, agricultural products and jewelry.
USCIRF has recommended that the US create a formal mechanism to regularly engage with Laos over its ethnic and religious discriminations. It also recommends that the US push for uncensored media outlets and more incentives for government and private entities to adhere to human rights.
Aid to the Church in Need. “Persecuted and Forgotten: Report on Christians Oppressed for Their Faith 2011-2013”
USCIRF. “Annual Report: 2014”
Voice of the Martyrs. http://www.persecution.net/laos.htm
International Christian Concern. http://www.persecution.org/category/countries/asia/laos/