A Catholic church in Nepal’s western Banke District has been left badly damaged following an arson attack last week, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
A group of between eight and ten unidentified arsonists reportedly warned locals to stay inside their houses, before breaking into St. Joseph’s, in the town of Kohalpur, in the early hours of 5 May. They then doused it with petrol and set it alight.
The fire “entirely destroyed” the interior of the church, said CSW, with only the outer structure remaining intact.
The Federation of National Christians in Nepal called for the government to launch an immediate investigation.
“This hateful act is cowardly and send[s] out [the] message that Christianity is not welcomed in this place,” Nepali human rights defender Prakash Kadhka told CSW. “We are keen to build peace and work towards justice. Acts that provoke a culture of hate and fear will not bring about lasting peace and durable solutions.”
Nepal joined the UN Human Rights Council as a member on 1 January, but rights groups like CSW have called on the Nepali government to address its own commitment to the protection of human rights, including religious freedom.
In October, Nepali president Bidhya Devi Bhandari signed into law a bill criminalising religious conversion and the “hurting of religious sentiment”.
At that time, two parliamentarians warned that religious freedom in the country was “teetering on the edge”.
While the country is a secular state according to its constitution, the Hindu faith is afforded special protection. Religious minorities, such as Christians, Muslims and Buddhists, continue to be denied the ability to register their places of worship.