The enactment of new legislation criminalizing religious conversion in Nepal has sparked a heightened sense of fear and insecurity among Christian minorities.
The Civil and Criminal Codes, which came into effect on Aug. 17 to replace the General Code that was in place for 165 years, comprise a set of laws guiding civil and legal proceedings including restrictions on religious conversion, in the Hindu-majority nation. One new law states that anybody who encourages or is involved in religious conversion using any means will be booked under a criminal offense and will face a jail term of five years and a fine of 50,000 Nepalese rupees (US$445). Any foreigner found guilty of encouraging or promoting religious conversions will be deported within a week.
Christian leaders believe the move is targeted at Christians, who have been accused of forceful proselytizing of Nepalis, particularly those from vulnerable and lower castes. They fear the law will be used as a tool to harass and persecute Christian minorities for practicing their religion.
“The Christian community is alarmed about this new law. This is like a saw that is always hanging on top of us and can be used any time against us,” said Father Silas Bogati, vicar general of the Apostolic Vicariate of Nepal.
It is a basic fundamental right of an individual to accept or practice any religion or any belief, he said. “With the new law implemented, we feel that our freedom of religion has been hampered and it looks like we will not be able to even practice our own religion in a fair manner,” Father Bogati added. The Federation of National Christian Nepal, believes the move is a regressive step that hurts the sentiments of Christian minorities who had earlier welcomed Nepal’s decision to adopt secularism.
The law goes against the principles of secularism, democracy and human rights and aims to restrict the freedom of religion of more than three million Christians who are associated with nearly 12,000 churches in Nepal, said federation chairman C.B. Gahatraj.