From August 17–19, IGE and its partners conducted a Religious Freedom Education and Dialogue (RFED) seminar in the Muang Mai District of Phongsaly Province. The seminar brought together local government officials and religious leaders to discuss laws and policies in Laos related to religious freedom. It also provided an opportunity for representatives from the country’s various religions to explain the history of their faith in Laos. Participants included leaders from the Buddhist, Catholic, evangelical, Bah’ai, and Muslim communities. Representatives from the Lao government’s Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Muang Mai District’s Communist Party branch were also in attendance.
According to IGE Laos program officer Steve Bailey, “This was only the second time Phongsaly Province has allowed a RFED seminar to take place in the province, and the first time it has taken place in Muang Mai District. This is significant because there are an increasing number of tribal minority people who have become Christians in this District.”
Just last year in August, three tribal Christian leaders were detained without charges in Muang Mai District. A few months afterwards, IGE and the Ministry of Home Affairs held a RFED seminar in a nearby district after Muang Mai turned down the opportunity to host. Two weeks after the seminar, the three Christian leaders were released.
“It’s very encouraging that a year later after the detention, Muang Mai is now hosting its own RFED seminar,” Bailey said, “Our hope is that relations between the local government officials in Muang Mai District and all the religious communities will continue to improve.”
For more information about IGE’s Laos program, contact Steve Bailey (firstname.lastname@example.org).