Christians, Muslims unhappy as Nepal bans religious conversion in its draft constitution

A devotee offers prayers to a cow during a religious ceremony in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Nov. 11, 2015. Hindus all over Nepal are celebrating the Tihar festival, also called Diwali, during which they worship cows, which are considered a maternal figure, and other animals.Reuters

Proselytising or converting one person to another religion, whatever that religion maybe, is now prohibited in Nepal.

A draft version of the new constitution introduced for public comment said religious conversion is being banned in order not to "undermine or jeopardise" the religion of each other, according to Gospel Herald.

"Any act which may be contrary to public health, public decency or morality or incitement to breach public peace or act to convert another person from one religion to another or any act or behavior to undermine or jeopardise the religion of each other is not allowed and such act shall be punishable by law," a provision in the draft constitution states.

Christians and Muslims are reportedly concerned about the impact of the new constitution on their religious freedom and the government's haste in finalising the document as soon as August next year.

The Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) also warned that the language about religious conversion in the draft version "fails to allow for choosing and changing one's faith ... as a matter of individual rights, as required and guaranteed by international treaties."

"That would make it illegal to change religion, evangelise, or even explain one's religion—all violations of Nepal's international agreements," said Martin Dore, CSW's Nepal advocacy officer.

"There is a purpose to stop all evangelism and talking about another faith in the words 'incitement to breach public peace' and the banning of 'an act or behavior to undermine or jeopardise the religion of another,'" Dore said.

Nepal's Hindu Rastriya Prajatantra Party lobbied for the inclusion of a conversion ban and has called for Nepal to become an officially Hindu state again, according to Reuters.

Catholic officials in Nepal also called for the word "secular" to be inserted into the constitution and asked for Christianity to be officially recognised, according to the Catholic News Service (CNS).

"We want secularism to be institutionalised in such a way that it is an unchangeable provision in the new constitution. We want the constitution to ensure religious rights and form a religious commission," said CNS.

Muslims also reportedly want permission to have their own religious courts.

Christians in Nepal currently do not experience "significant" persecution and they are free to start churches, Dore said.

"But they don't have legal rights to register their churches, nor can they acquire burial ground.''

Asia News reported that under the transitional constitution, proselytising is banned but Nepali citizens can still express their faith through missionary and charity work.

In 2011, Nepalese lawmakers attempted to make conversion to anything other than Hinduism or Buddhism illegal, according to Open Doors spokeswoman Emily Fuentes. The legislation was not adopted, said Reuters.