Nepal recently joined the region’s escalating religious intolerance by enacting a law that makes Christian conversion a crime.
The growing Christian minorities in India and Pakistan already faced criminal prosecution. Human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported that President of Nepal Bidhya Devi Bhandari signed legislation that now institutionalizes Christian persecution in the country through prison sentences. A small-but-flourishing Christian groundswell faces up to five years in prison for converting to Christianity and up to two years for what the law calls the “hurting of religious sentiment.”
Pastor Tanka Subedi, founding member and chair of Dharmik Chautari Nepal and Religious Liberty Forum Nepal, expressed deep concern over the hard turn toward Christian and Evangelical intolerance.
“We are deeply saddened that this bill is now law,” Pastor Tanka Subedi reportedly said. “Our appeals to the president and other policy makers to amend this have been ignored. Nepali government have taken a regressive step as this law severely restricts our freedom of expression and our freedom of religion or belief.”
Reports indicate that more than 375,000 Christians and Evangelicals reside in the primarily Hindu nations.
The criminal law passed by the Nepali parliament appears to be a reaction to the increased fears that the Word of Jesus Christ is spreading through the Himalayan country. Approximately 80 percent of the population practice Hinduism and the same law buttressed that religion with constitutional protections. Conversion to Christianity has become a form of blasphemy against Hinduism, according to Nepal’s lawmakers.
A Nepali Christian site posted a portion of the law that states:
“No one should involve or encourage in conversion of religion. No one should convert a person from one religion to another religion or profess them own religion and belief with similar intention by using or not using any means of attraction and by disturbing religion or belief of any ethnic groups or community that being practiced since ancient times.
If found guilty; there will be punishment of five years of imprisonment and penalty of fifty thousand rupees ($500 USD). If foreigners are found guilty; they will have to be deported within seven days after completing the imprisonment in third clause.”
The sanctions against Christianity show an inherent hypocrisy by the Nepal government. Nearly ten years after declaring itself a secular state, the ruling class appears to be waging a legislative war that favors one religion over another. However, the landlocked country’s own Constitution outlines a single state religion.
Article 26 of the document states, “No one shall attempt to change or convert someone from one religion to another, or disturb / jeopardize the religion of others, and such acts / activities shall be punishable by law.”
Although Article 26 has been rarely enforced, charges were brought against Christians accused of evangelizing after a catastrophic earthquake in Kathmandu. Although the courts dropped the charges, concerns loomed over “conversion” penalties.
Mervyn Thomas, founder of CSW, says the anti-conversion laws target religious minorities such as Christians. In a press release directed at the Nepali government, he called on them to “repeal this unjust law and amend Article 26 (3) of the constitution as they both curtail the right to freedom of religion or belief and undermine Nepal’s commitments under international law, a contradiction made even more striking as Nepal assumes its seat on the Human Rights Council.”
Commentary on the anti-Christian conversion law called it an abhorrent threat of minority faiths to even those already living in official Hindu state.
A Catholic human rights activist penned a criticism of the law that explains: “If the bill is passed, it’s feared that it will result in a situation worse than Pakistan’s blasphemy law — a type of bill that can be misinterpreted and misused by anyone wanting to make a false accusation against anyone else.”
Too often, people have manipulated religious sentiment for ill purposes and this law weaponizes Christian persecution. Nepal, in particular, has a dark legacy of religious intolerance. The new law would potentially worsen religious inequities beyond the state-sanctioned horrors under the Panchayat System from 1960-1990. And, Christians were reportedly banned from Nepal before 1960.
Since then, the Christian Faith has swelled among the poor Dalit class to upwards of 20 percent of the group. Nepal has experienced one of the continent’s most stunning Christian Faith growth stories.
Despite being faced with ongoing threats, Christian conversion has tripled during the last 10 years and popular folk singer Raju Pariyar made headlines by being baptized in 2015. Christians comprise only about 1.4 percent of the 29 million Nepali residents, but conversion has quickened.
~ Christian Patriot Daily