Wednesday, October 1, 2014

RLPB 280. Laos & Hong Kong: totalitarianism brings suffering

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 280 | Wed 01 Oct 2014

By Elizabeth Kendal


On Sunday 21 September authorities in Boukham Village, Atsaphangthong District in Laos' Savannakhet Province informed Christians that they would no longer be permitted to gather for worship, despite having been meeting weekly for the past 3 - 4 years. Despite the warning, the believers gathered the following Sunday 28 September in the home of Pastor Sompong Supatto and worshipped the Lord together as usual. When worship was over and the believers were preparing to have lunch together, the chief of Boukham Village, along with village security officials and police, raided the gathering, arresting Pastor Sompong Supatto and six other Christians. Prison conditions in Laos are appalling and the health of prisoners deteriorates quickly. As is commonly the case with Christian leaders, Pastor Supatto is being kept with his hands cuffed and his feet in stocks. For more background on Laos and details on a string of recent cases (all in Savannakhet Province), see RLPB 263 (4 June 2014) and RLPB 266 (25 June).

Being totalitarian, with no authority higher than itself, Communist Party rule not only leads to persecution of Christians, but to repression of any form of dissent. In 2011 there were only 60,000 Facebook users in Laos; today there are over half-a-million and the regime sees this as a threat. To make it even easier to arrest people who oppose and criticise the Communist Party, Laos' dictators issued a decree on 16 Sept 2014 criminalising the spreading of 'false' criticism of the regime via the internet. Now Laotians who criticise the regime, even just on social media, risk being arrested for 'cybercrime'.


Hong Kong has been struggling for democracy and autonomy since 30 June 1997, when Britain ceded the region back to China. The Sino-British Joint Declaration, ratified in May 1985, promised clearly that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region would have 'a high degree of autonomy' and be 'vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication'. From the day it regained sovereignty, however, Beijing has been encroaching on Hong Kong's freedoms. [For background, see 'Tracking freedom in Hong Kong' RLM 19 September 2002.] Hong Kong's Basic Law (effectively the Constitution of Hong Kong) became law on 1 July 1997. According to Article 158 of the Basic Law, the National People's Congress in Beijing has the final word on all matters pertaining to constitutional issues and interpretation of the Basic Law. However, the reality is Hong Kong's pro-democracy advocates and the Communist Party (CCP) in Beijing interpret 'universal suffrage' quite differently, with Beijing interpreting universal suffrage as 'everyone may vote for the candidates we offer'.

The current 'Occupy Central' protests in central Hong Kong are being supported by many churches. This is unsurprising, as Christians understand full well that if autonomy is chipped away by an encroaching CCP it will eventually impact religious liberty. Occupy Central co-founder Reverend Chu Yiu-ming (70, a Baptist pastor) told South China Morning Post, 'I am really afraid of being sent to jail ...  I am really afraid of the Communist Party. But I am ready to conquer and pay the price [for democracy]. If we bow to fate, we will lose everything.' Whilst Hong Kong's riot police have backed off, the situation remains unresolved and dangerous considering Beijing's attitude has hardened under Xi Jinping. Xi, a smooth-talking self-declared reformer, has warned that China will heed the lesson of the Soviet Communist Party, which he says collapsed due to the weakness of its leaders. Faced with troubles in Xinjiang and Taiwan, the CCP, which is escalating repression on the mainland (see RLPB 275), knows it cannot afford to let the Hong Kong protests succeed.

The protest leaders must be careful not to let their worthy protest turn into an attempt at 'mob-ocracy' (rule by mob). The purpose of a protest is to get attention; to make a point: Tiananmen Square was a good example. Mobocracy, on the other hand, is a 'dirty tactic' whereby protesters paralyse or choke a city while making demands; it is really a form of violence. In much of the world today, it is the new way of doing politics. Yet it risks (even begs for) a heavy-handed response from those who need to keep the city functioning. When that happens, events can spiral quickly out of control. Perhaps it is time for this very worthy protest to evolve into something less provocative, less confrontational and less dangerous -- although just as determined and principled.


* protect, preserve and bless the Church in Laos, especially those now imprisoned for their faith, especially praying for those leaders who are detained in handcuffs and leg stocks; may they know the promised presence of their loving heavenly Father. 'And behold, I [Jesus] am with you always, to the end of the age.' (Matthew 28:20b ESV)

'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.' (Hebrews 13:3 ESV)

* intervene in Laos to end repression and open the door for the Gospel to spread freely through this desperately needy land.

* move powerfully amongst those who are leading the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong, to give them wisdom to know when and how to evolve this protest into something sustainable, safe and effective. May the Church lead the way through prayer.

* intervene in China, in answer to the prayers of many, to end repression and open the door for the Gospel to spread freely through this spiritually hungry land.

Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. (Psalm 37:5 ESV)
'Be still, and know that I am God ...' (Psalm 46:10a ESV)


On Sunday 28 September police raided the home of Pastor Sompong Supatto, arresting him and six other believers. The church had been warned against gathering for worship. Like other Christian leaders currently in prison for their faith, Pastor Sompong Supatto is being detained in hand cuffs and leg stocks. Please pray for Laos' persecuted Church. Meanwhile, the protests in Hong Kong risk degenerating into 'mobocracy'. To choke the city while making demands is really a form of violence. It might be a popular way of doing politics these days but it is not democratic. The protest leaders need to evolve this worthy protest into a movement that is less risky, less confrontational and more sustainable. The issue is Beijing's legal right to interpret Hong Kong's Basic Law. Please pray.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).