Last week, Nepal enacted a law to curb evangelism by criminalizing religious conversion, joining neighboring countries like India and Pakistan, where the region’s small-but-growing Christian minority faces government threats to their faith.
The “Nepali government [has] taken a regressive step as this law severely restricts our freedom of expression and our freedom of religion or belief,” said Tanka Subedi, chair of the national Religious Liberty Forum, to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). The pastor is 1 of an estimated 375,000 Christians living in the former Hindu kingdom.
The criminal code bill, which the parliament approved in August and President Bidhya Devi Bhandari signed last Monday, establishes further constitutional protections for Hinduism (which 80% of the population practices) by restricting religious conversion and “hurting of religious sentiment,” or blasphemy.
According to a Nepali Christian site, a section of the new law reads:
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 [approximately $770 USD]. If foreigners are found guilty; they will have to be deported within seven days after completing the imprisonment in third clause.
The amended criminal sanctions come a decade after the longtime Hindu monarchy declared itself a secular state, and two years after it adopted a new constitution.
Article 26 of the constitution stated that, “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.”
At the time, CT reported how religious freedom advocates worried that this line in particular could be used as “groundwork for future restrictions and discrimination.” The fears of Elijah Brown, chief of staff at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, and others have come true.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Kate Shellnutt