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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)

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Up to 50 Hate Crimes Are Reported Everyday in London

Up to 50 hate crimes are reported to the police in London every day, adding up to 19,000 in 2018, a City Hall report revealed

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Hate crime of any kind cannot be tolerated and we need to ensure that all Londoners can live without physical or verbal prejudice. Pixabay

Up to 50 hate crimes are reported to the police in London every day, adding up to 19,000 in 2018, a City Hall report revealed on Monday.

With offences on the rise since 2011, the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee published a new report calling for more action from London Mayor Sadiq Khan to tackle hate crime in the capital.

The report shows homophobic hate crime reported to London’s Metropolitan Police is up 81 per cent and racist and religious hate crime is up 107 per cent since 2011, Xinhua news agency reported.

The study also shows disability hate crime is up 215 per cent and transphobic hate crime is up 261 per cent.

Most of the hate crime the police record is classed as racist and religious hate crime. In 2018, there were over 16,500 racist and religious hate crime offences.

Apart from the Metropolitan Police, other police services in London are also recording an increase in hate crimes.

British Transport Police (BTP) said that in London in 2018-19, it recorded 2,064 hate crime offences, a slight increase on the previous year.

Around one in four of the offences are committed against railway staff and over half are reported on London Underground trains, said the report.

It said hate crime is recorded across all parts of London, but many offences are concentrated within a few boroughs. Westminster, Camden, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Barnet regularly appear in the top five boroughs for the different strands of reported hate crime.

Spikes in racist and religious hate crime also occurred following events like the EU referendum and London Bridge attack, the report added.

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Most of the hate crime the police record is classed as racist and religious hate crime. In 2018, there were over 16,500 racist and religious hate crime offences. Pixabay

London Assembly member Unmesh Desai, who chairs the committee, said: “These statistics are alarming and not representative of the vast majority of people living in the capital.

“Hate crime of any kind cannot be tolerated and we need to ensure that all Londoners can live without physical or verbal prejudice.”

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Desai said organisations working across London to tackle hate crime and support victims are faced with a growing number of victims that need help.

The London Assembly Police and Crime Committee called on the Mayor to strengthen efforts to tackle hate crime to ensure that victims can access the support they need. (IANS)