US-based evangelical group says 3 volunteers detained in Laos

Several members of a U.S.-based evangelical Christian organization were detained and had their passports confiscated in Laos, the group said Friday.

Vision Beyond Borders said three volunteers were visiting remote villages in the northern part of the country for religious missionary work on Monday when they were detained by police and had their passports confiscated.

The Wyoming-based group said in a statement on Friday that the three were taken into custody by police when visiting villages in the Louang Namtha province.

Radio Free Asia reported Friday citing an unnamed police official that the three had been arrested, but the official denied they were being detained, saying only that their passports had been confiscated.

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“It appears that the interrogations have been going slowly. [Police] brought them into a room and said they would be back in 10 minutes, then they were gone for 4-5 hours,” Vision Beyond Borders operations manager Eric Blievernicht told RFA.

The outlet cited a statement from an unnamed State Department official saying, "We can confirm the temporary detention and subsequent release of three U.S. citizens in Luang Namtha, Laos. We take seriously our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad and are providing all appropriate consular services." 

A local Christian group told the news agency that it was working on efforts to meet with the Americans.

“We just found out about this and we’re traveling to Luang Namtha province to help these three Americans,” a leader of a local church who remained anonymous told RFA.

Laos, which is run by a communist government that recognizes Buddhism as the state religion, generally considers Christianity to be a foreign religion. As a result, conflict occasionally erupts between the government and missionary groups.

A 2017 report from the State Department cited by RFA found that more than two dozen Hmong Christians had been expelled from their native villages by the government in that year.