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“The Team Was Treated Relatively Well” During Police Questioning, U.S. Christians Held in Laos

Throughout their period of detention, “the team was treated relatively well,” Vision Beyond Borders said in a recent statement. 

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Christian villagers in Laos are shown in an undated photo. RFA

Three U.S. citizens held in Laos last month for handing out religious tracts were “treated well” during questioning by police, but Lao Christians still face persecution at the hands of state authorities, the missionary group to which the three belong said this week.

“Yes, they were treated well, and we appreciate that,” Eric Blievernicht, operations manager for the Wyoming-based group Vision Beyond Borders, told RFA’s Lao Service on Thursday in a brief telephone interview.

“They‘re home safe now, and they’re looking forward to continuing their ministry,” Blievernicht said.

The three volunteers—identified by their given names, Wayne, Autumn, and Joseph—were picked up by police in a scenic corner of northern Laos’ Luang Namtha province on April 8 after handing out religious materials to villagers, a policeman and a witness told RFA in an earlier report.

Authorities then seized their passports and took them to a guesthouse in the provincial capital, about 60 kms (36 miles) from where they had been arrested, but allowed them free movement of their quarters and the surrounding village, and the three were deported to Thailand 10 days later.

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In a report released April 29, the bipartisan U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) placed Laos on its Tier 2 Watch List for what it called continuing serious abuses of religious freedoms. Pixabay

Throughout their period of detention, “the team was treated relatively well,” Vision Beyond Borders said in a recent statement.

“They were never hollered at, the officials never laid a hand on them, and they even provided bottled water when the team was at the [police] station,” the missionary group, which distributes bibles and recordings of religious messages around the world, said.

Speaking to RFA, Blievernight said however that Lao Christians themselves face greater difficulties every day, with Lao authorities “harassing Christians and breaking up meetings and making it difficult for them to gather.”

“So we’re continuing to pray for Laos and want to do whatever we can to support the churches there,” he said.

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Though the one-party communist state’s constitution “ostensibly protects its people’s inherent right to religious freedom,” regulations controlling religious observance in Laos are vaguely worded and open to interpretation by local authorities, USCIRF said. Pixabay

‘Continuing serious abuses’

In a report released April 29, the bipartisan U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) placed Laos on its Tier 2 Watch List for what it called continuing serious abuses of religious freedoms.

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Though the one-party communist state’s constitution “ostensibly protects its people’s inherent right to religious freedom,” regulations controlling religious observance in Laos are vaguely worded and open to interpretation by local authorities, USCIRF said.

“Some Lao authorities remained deeply suspicious of Christians, sometimes resulting in social exclusion, harassment, and arbitrary detention by law enforcement officials,” the rights group said, adding that it had received reports throughout 2018 of persecution of Christians in Savannakhet, “a province known for its religious intolerance.” (RFA)

Next Story

Juan Guaido Contacts US Military To Pressurize Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro To Step Down

The U.S. and some 50 other countries support Guaido, who declared himself interim president in January on the claim that Maduro's 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

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Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, whom many nations have recognized as the country's rightful interim ruler, leaves after a rally in support of the Venezuelan National Assembly and against the government of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, May 11, 2019. VOA

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido told his supporters Saturday at a rally in Caracas that he had instructed his ambassador to the U.S. to contact the U.S. military to pressure President Nicolas Maduro to step down from his post.

Guaido spoke to demonstrating crowds in the Alfredo Sadel Plaza in Las Mercedes, a commercial district in Caracas.

He spoke a day after a Venezuelan court ordered Edgar Zambrano, vice president of Guaido’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, to be held at a military facility. Zambrano,who was arrested earlier in the week, and nine other opposition leaders are under investigation in connection with a failed military insurrection.

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The Treasury Department said the vessels delivered oil to Cuba from late 2018 through March. Pixabay

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for Zambrano’s immediate release, saying his arrest “is an attack on the independence of the nation’s democratically elected legislative branch.”

Shippers sanctioned

Meanwhile, the United States has placed sanctions on two shipping companies for transporting Venezuelan oil to Cuba.

The U.S. Treasury Department said Friday that it had targeted Marshall Islands-based Monsoon Navigation Corp. and Serenity Maritime Ltd., headquartered in Liberia.

The agency said the companies owned ships that were involved in oil transfers to Cuba, which the U.S. has accused of providing military support to Maduro.

The Treasury Department said the vessels delivered oil to Cuba from late 2018 through March.

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The U.S. and some 50 other countries support Guaido, who declared himself interim president in January on the claim that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

Maduro has called Guaido a puppet of the U.S. Maduro has held on to power with the support of Cuba, Russia and China. (VOA)