The clause in Nepal’s constitution that prohibits religious conversions was added to “protect Hinduism at the expense of other religions”, says advocacy group CSW, on the third anniversary of the amended constitution.
As World Watch Monitor reported, Nepal’s Christian minority feared that the so-called “anti-conversion” measure, which came into force in August, would be abused by those seeking to settle scores, as has happened frequently in neighbouring India.
After the bill was passed, Nepali MP Lokmani Dhakal asked for the removal of the sections criminalising conversions, saying: “It seems very clear to me that this country, when preparing the civil code, has forgotten it is a signatory to international treaties that protect the freedom of religion and human rights … Please don’t let it be possible for the world to say of Nepal that we are the kind of nation that on the one hand signs international treaties, but when making internal laws, and in implementing them, does something else.”
Stating that “no person shall convert anyone from one religion to another or make attempt to or abet such conversion”, the law provides for punishment of up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to 50,000 rupees (US$430).
According to CSW, the criminalisation of conversion is a “direct infringement of freedom of religion or belief”. As evidence of increasing religious intolerance in the country, CSW referenced attacks on five churches in May, four of which were set on fire and one bombed.
Also, since the beginning of this year, several Christians have been arrested on allegations of attempting to convert: Sonia Chanda Thakuri, who was arrested on charges of being involved in religious conversions and “hurting religious sentiments”; Devi Rai, who was arrested with her friends for allegedly attempting to convert a Hindu family; Sumitra Gauli, Radhika Maharjan and Phuldevi Bhattarai, who were arrested for allegedly attempting to convert others; and Bhim Br. Pradhan and Nabin Kumar Mandal, who were arrested for preaching about Christianity at home, after being accused by local residents of “hurting religious sentiments”.