VIENTIANE, LAOS (Worthy News)-- Authorities in southern Laos pressure three jailed pastors and other Christians to participate in occult rituals and recant their faith in Jesus Christ, a religious advocacy group said.
Among those targeted are Pastors Bounlert, Adang and Onkaew, who are held in the regional prison of Savannakhet Province since September 17, though local officials called their detention "not justified", explained Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
Last week, authorities ordered that the pastors, who each use only one name, "be escorted back to their their villages" in the province's Phin district, but family members waited in vain, added HRWLRF Director Sirikoon Prasertsee.
Instead, the non-Christian village chief and elders demanded Thursday, October 18, that Pastor Bounlert and other believers in his Alowmai village "be subjected to an animistic, spirit-cult ritual" which involves taking an oath with "sacred water", Prasertsee told Worthy News.
If they refuse the ceremony, the six Christian families in Allowmai village will be forced to leave, said Prasertsee, who has close contacts with the Christians.
The threats was expected to add to pressure on the three jailed pastors, who reportedly refused to participate in a similar occult ritual, saying that would betray their Christian faith.
Christian leaders claim authorities want "to force Christians to recant their faith because they were unsuccessful in taking legal actions against them," Prasertsee explained.
The pastors "are being kept further in the Phin district prison and additionally subjected to hardship, harassment, and threats until now" as "district police authorities are seeking for more evidence to charge them," he said.
The three pastors have reportedly told local authorities that they have a constitutional right to be Christians in Laos.
Phin district and Allowmai village authorities reportedly said they have to undergo rituals that confirm the country's "traditional" religion.
The HRWLRF said in a statement it had urged the Lao government "to respect the right of Pastors Bounlert, Adang and Onkaew to adhere to any religion of choice as guaranteed under the Lao constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was ratified by the Lao government."
The group urged the government to release the pastors "immediately and unconditionally."
It comes amid a wider reported crackdown on devoted Christians and growing churches in rural villages of Laos, a Communist-run nation.