On October 13, a court in the northern Laotian province of Luang Prabang sentenced six Christian leaders to prison for holding an "illegal" meeting. The court convicted the Christians, who received sentences ranging from eight to eighteen months, for gathering without official permission of local authorities "in order to stir up opposition or cause damage to Lao society."

Though still a tiny minority in the nation of 5 million, Christians in Laos, particularly in Luang Prabang province, face intense hostility from majority Buddhists and persistent discrimination from the country's Communist rulers.

Even though the Lao Constitution guarantees freedom of belief, evangelism, training, and church planting are illegal. Religious groups must be registered with an arm of the Communist party. Sale or distribution of Bibles is illegal.

The ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party came to power in 1975 and has since run the tiny landlocked country in Southeast Asia with communist-style leadership. Around two-thirds of Laotians are Buddhists, while most of the rest practice animism. Christians represent around 1 percent of the population, with estimates ranging from 36,000 to 72,000.

The government uses Buddhism as a cultural tool to maintain controls. Buddhism legitimizes social and economic inequalities, while communism legitimizes suppression of the spread of Christianity. Christians have become a blatant target for persecution, particularly since the implementation of a new economic policy earlier this decade.

Laos had nearly 15,000 Christians before Communists took over in 1975. Most of the Christians belonged to the Hmong tribe and went into hiding or fled the country as refugees to avoid imprisonment. In 1990, revival swept Laos, ...

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