The British Ambassador to Nepal has been accused of supporting the work of Christian missionaries in the majority-Hindu nation.
Andrew Sparkes, who became the ambassador in Kathmandu in April 2013, wrote an article in the Republica newspaper to mark International Human Rights Day on 10 December.
"We encourage you to ensure that the right to change religion is protected and that the right to hold opinions and to express them freely will remain strong," he wrote.
It was framed as an open letter addressed to members of Constituent Assembly in Nepal, the body currently responsible for redrafting Nepal's constitution.
His remarks, which were interpreted by Hindu conservatives as part of a conspiracy to convert Nepalis to Christianity, led a number of Hindu groups to call for the British government to remove Sparkes from his post, EKantipur news website reports.
The British Embassy in Kathmandu responded with a statement last week to clarify Sparkes' comments. "Some have misunderstood the letter's reference to protecting an individual's right to change religion. This was simply a reference to a fundamental individual right, set out in Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was not a reference to supporting 'forced' conversion or proselytising.
"Nor was the Embassy or its officials preaching or imposing any religious point of view on Nepal's democratically elected representatives and Nepal's citizens. Contrary to some claims, the Embassy does not hold any position on secularism – that is a matter for Nepal's people and their elected representatives to decide," the statement said.
Christians make up just under three per cent of Nepal's population, although there has been significant growth among the Christian community in recent years. Critics in Nepal say this growth is owed to conversions with 'monetary inducements', according to the national newspaper The Rising Nepal.
Nepal was a Hindu kingdom until the end of the civil war in 2006, when it became a secular state. Hindus constitute about 80 per cent of the population, and some are calling for it to return to being a Hindu nation.