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ASIA/NEPAL – 40 Christian leaders arrested for “forced conversions”: religious freedom at risk

As Nepal continues the process of drafting a new constitution, issues of religious freedom for non-Hindu minorities looms large as a concern. The recent arrest and release of over 40 Christian leaders, as well as the Hindu mob who gathered outside the prison and threatened insurrection should the Christians be released, is a foreboding indicator at best.

6/24/2014 Nepal (Agenzia Fides) – More than 40 Christian leaders were arrested, and then released, accused of alleged “forced conversions of Hindus.” As Fides learns, the Nepalese police executed the wave of arrests, all leaders belonging to Protestant Christian communities, on June 13, under pressure from Nepalese Hindu leaders, but only now the news has been widespread.

The arrests “are an ominous threat to religious freedom in Nepal,” denounces a note sent to Fides by the NGO “Barnabas team.” The arrests are a sign of intolerance towards minorities: as a matter of fact a Hindu mob gathered outside the prison, threatening an uprising if the Christians were released. Most of the detainees were released, however, a few hours after the arrest, but 8 leaders remained in custody until June 15. According to local sources, the Hindus in Nepal, inspired by extremist movements in India, “are looking for pretexts against Christians.”

On a recent visit to Nepal in early June, Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, vice president of the Indian Nationalist Party ‘Bharatiya Janata Party’ (BJP), who won the general elections in India in May, urged the Nepalese civil leaders to “immediately ban religious conversions,” arguing that “Western countries promote proselytism in Nepal, to the detriment of Hinduism, since it became a secular state, in 2006.”

The BJP’s attempt to influence the leaders of Nepal comes at a time when the Constituent Assembly of the small country is in the process of drafting a new constitution. Christians are worried and hope that their rights and freedoms, such as speech and religion, are respected in the new Charter.

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