A roundup of 11 Christians in Luang Prabang, Laos, has brought the number of Christians in jail to 33. The government recently modified its Marxist ideology with a narrow nationalism, attempting to capitalize on the country's Buddhist majority.
Government officials suspect Protestant Christians (who have doubled in number since 1997) of harboring "unwanted foreign influences."
"I don't think the government is bent on general extermination for the simple reason that the persecution dynamics are complex," says a Laos-watcher from Manila.
"For example, it is worst where the Christians—like in Burma—are from minorities that harbor resistance movements."
Many Christians are from the Hmong or Khmu ethnic minorities. The Hmong were staunchly pro-American during the Vietnam War, and with the reemergence of a local resistance movement that carried out 10 bombings in 2000, the government is cracking down on all.
The May arrests rounded up 11 Khmu Christians who were conducting Bible training in the north. Dramatic growth in the number of Christians in the area since last year had reportedly worried the government.
Khmu Christians constitute about 40,000 of Laos's 70,000 Protestants. Observers fear that all 11 arrested Christians are being pressured to sign "personal confession forms" to renounce the Christian faith.1