Christians under pressure: Nepal to seal hardline crackdown on evangelism and blasphemy

Nepal's president will approve a bill next week sealing the country's hardline attitude towards evangelism and set it on course for similar blasphemy rules to Pakistan.

The law, passed by the Nepali parliament earlier this month, will criminalise religious conversions and ban 'hurting religious sentiment' – a clause similar to that used to prohibit insulting another's religion elsewhere in the region.

ADF International

Bidhya Devi Bhandari is expected to sign the act, giving legal force to a clause in Nepal's new constitution barring religious conversion.

Human rights activists fearing a crackdown on minorities are calling for the legislation to be changed. They warn it will be used to target Nepal's fringe religions including Christians.

Last year eight Christians were arrested and charged with attempting to convert children after they handed out leaflets about Jesus to school pupils.

Kiri Kankhwende, spokeswoman for the religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), warned there would be more similar cases with the new bill's introduction.

'It gives this a legal force it didn't previously have,' she told Christian Today.

'Even the very fact of talking about your faith could be criminalised,' she went on, adding Christians particularly among Nepal's minority groups are worried.

'It portrays conversion as something done to somebody by someone else and overlooks the fact people make a choice,' she said.

'It is part of a really worrying trend in the region.'

ADF International

In neighbouring India six states have now passed anti-conversion laws that have been used to target Christians.

'The lesson from India is that anti-conversion laws not only restrict the rights of an individual to adopt a religion of their choice, but also put religious minority communities at risk of hostility and violence,' Kankhwende said.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, a Christian legal outfit, warned the vaguely defined terms in laws banning insulting another's religion can be used 'to harass minorities'.

Tehmina Arora, legal counsel and director of ADF IndiA, an expert in human rights law, said: 'Every person should have the right to live out their faith freely.'

She added: 'Nepal risks to return to a totalitarian society in which individual rights are being severely curbed.

'The fundamental right to religious freedom includes the practice and sharing of a belief. The president should veto this new bill and allow her citizens to enjoy basic human rights. No one in Nepal should have to fear persecution because of their religious convictions.'

Giulio Paletta for CSW

In an interview with Christian Today, local pastor Tanka Subedi said Christians were being arrested and beaten without reason.

'For the last two years we have been unsure about how long the doors will be open for us to practise our faith freely. We were not expecting this level of harassment,' he said.

'Christians were arrested and beaten without reasons,' he added. 'Political leaders are accusing Christian for converting by paying money.'

Pastors are afraid to take Bibles and literature with them in their ministry because there is a danger police will accuse them of trying forcibly to convert others simply by having a Bible in their possession.

'Children are traumatised,' he said.