Nepal to Criminalize Evangelism and Religious Conversions

Published 31 August 2017  |  
CSW 2016, Nepal
Bimal Shahi, Prakash Pradhan and Shakti Pakhrin from Charikot holding copies of "The Great Story"comic book.

The president of Nepal is likely to approve a bill that will criminalize any attempt to convert someone to a different faith, besides "hurting of religious sentiment".

The country's parliament passed the bill on Aug. 8, which will effectively forbid evangelism. The churches and Christian organizations are concerned that the new law will be misused to target religious minorities, especially Nepali Christians, as happened in the Charikot case in 2016, when eight Nepali Christians were slapped with charges of attempting to convert children after distributing a comic book on the story of Jesus.

"We are deeply concerned that if this Bill becomes law, we will see more cases like Charikot and further restrictions on the right to freedom of religion or belief in Nepal. The lesson from India is that anti-conversion laws not only restrict the rights of an individual to adopt a religion of their choice, but also put religious minority communities at risk of hostility and violence," said Kiri Kankhwende, senior press officer, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Anyone who offends the new law, including foreign visitors, could be imprisoned up to 5 years for attempting to convert a person or "undermine the religion, faith or belief that any caste, ethnic group or community has been observing since sanatan [eternal] times."

Anyone who "hurts religious sentiment" also could be imprisoned up to two years and fined 2,000 rupees.

The clause, "hurts religious sentiment", is similar to the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, which make it a criminal offence to offend another's religion, according to CSW.

"These laws are poorly defined and widely misused to settle personal scores, to target religious minorities or to further extremist agendas," said the charity body.

"Decades of misuse of the blasphemy laws have resulted in a situation where even voicing disagreement with these laws can lead to violence," it added.

Nepal has a majority of Hindu population, about 80 per cent, whereas, Christians barely occupy one per cent of the population.

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