A Lao Christian preacher who had previously been arrested for evangelism was found dead and badly beaten a few days after disappearing, villagers told Radio Free Asia.
A few days before his body was found with signs of torture, two men believed to be district authorities visited Sy Seng Manee, 48, they said. His corpse was found on Oct. 23 with his motorbike in a forest near a road to Donkeo village in Khammouane province.
Local residents said they believe Sy was murdered because of his religious beliefs and preaching.
A villager, who is also a soldier and lives in a community north of Donkeo, told RFA that he witnessed the preacher’s abduction. He saw three men get out of a black truck with no license plates, grab Sy and violently push him into the vehicle and drive away.
The villager who requested anonymity for safety reasons said at the time he believed the men were authorities arresting a drug dealer or criminal, so he went on his way. But after hearing about the preacher’s death, he realized that the man was Sy. He then informed others in his community about what he had seen, and they, in turn, told Sy’s family.
Lao police said they are still investigating the death.
The Law on the Evangelical Church, which took effect in December 2019, gives Christians in Laos the right to conduct services, preach throughout the country and maintain contacts with believers in other nations.
But they still often face opposition from residents or local authorities in this predominantly Buddhist nation.
In March, officials in Savannakhet province ordered a Christian family to remove social media posts and videos of villagers attacking a man’s coffin during his funeral in December 2021 because they opposed the family’s faith and struck mourners and pallbearers with clubs, RFA reported.
The family buried the patriarch in their own rice field, but authorities and residents continued to harass them. Authorities expropriated their land in February, and other villagers torched their home, relatives and other sources said in an earlier report.
Local authorities first arrested Sy in August 2018 because he held weekly meetings in his house to preach to the villagers, locals said. Authorities tried to force him to sign a document denouncing the Christian faith and pledging that he would stop preaching, but he refused and was jailed for three days and fined.
A few years after his release, Sy began preaching again until he disappeared this October and turned up dead.
“His death was due to his belief in Christianity,” said a village resident who declined to be identified out of fear for his safety.
The resident said he heard that authorities may have arrested Sy when they went to a gathering. “They don’t like the Christian religion, so that’s what they do,” he said.
A Christian preacher in Nakai district, where Donkeo village is located, said he believes that Sy was murdered because his Christian belief displeased local residents.
“Each district is different in terms of other religious beliefs,” said the preacher, who declined to be named for fear of his safety. “Some provinces are strict and some are loose when it comes to harassment.”
One Christian villager said he now feared for his own safety because the same might happen to him and other believers in the village. He called on police to quickly arrest the murderers.
“If the murderers are not arrested, it will strongly affect the Christian community,” he told RFA.
“In the past, each time a situation like this happened, there was a related sector responsible for thoroughly investigating the case.”