In 2015, the government of Nepal adopted a constitution that affirms freedom of religion.
There were a few restrictions on religious conversions, it’s true.
But now the parliament has decided to assess criminal penalties for attempting to convert someone to a particular religious faith.
The American Center for Law and Justice said Nepal has joined a number of other nations, such as India, and many Muslim countries in clamping down on religious conversion.
The Nepal constitution explicitly states Nepal is a secular state that allows freedom of religion.
Article 26 of the constitution states, “Every person who has faith in religion shall have the freedom to profess, practice, and protect his or her religion according to his or her conviction.”
But subsection 3 also limits the same freedom by stating that “[n]o person shall … convert another person from one religion to another or [perform] any act or conduct that may jeopardize other’s religion.”
The Bill Designed to Amend and Integrate Prevalent Laws Relating to Criminal Offense, enacted in October, codifies those restrictions in a criminal statute.
The law states, “Nobody should hurt the religious sentiment of any caste, ethnic community or class by writing, through voice/talk or by a shape or symbol in any other such manner.”
While the possible punishment for violating the law is two years, if someone actually converts “the religion of another person … or encourage[s] such an act, the punishment escalates to up to five years.”
ACLJ said both of the statutes “severely limit Nepali citizens’ right to express their faith, especially Christians, who can be punished simply for expressing their belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of the one true God.”
“Such a statement could offend sentiments of Hindus because they believe in many other gods. The same statement could offend Muslims who do not believe Jesus is the son of God,” ACLJ said.
“Furthermore, clause 160 absolutely prohibits sharing one’s faith. A Christian could be sent to jail for five years for witnessing to a non-Christian.”
ACLJ contacted the Nepal government when the bill was proposed and renewed its concerns in a letter to the ambassador, Arjun Kumar Karki.
“Our letter warns Nepal that such laws do not protect religious sentiments. Instead, ‘they serve as a tool for religious persecution and a means to settle personal disputes through false accusations.'”
The letter explains: “Hundreds of innocent Pakistanis, including Hindus, Christians, and even Muslims, are serving long prison terms and many have been extra-judicially killed by religious fundamentalists for allegedly hurting religious feelings of others under the blasphemy laws. Similarly, several Indian states have persecuted many Christians under their anti-conversion laws.
“Nepal’s blasphemy and anti-conversion law will not produce any positive outcome either. Instead, religious persecution will increase due to this law.”
ACLJ also argues the laws violate international covenants.
“We hope that Nepal will look at the examples of its neighbors and see these laws for what they are – a tool for persecution – and take necessary and appropriate actions to amend, if not repeal, them,” the group said.