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ICC Note:

Last September, Nepal finally released and passed a new constitution declaring itself to be a secular nation. While many were excited by this development, Christians and other religious minorities in Nepal still had reservations because of a section of the constitution that said religious conversions were illegal. Now, Nepal is looking to pass a bill that would confirm this part of the constitution and place a 5 year prison sentence on those caught converting to another religion or individuals accused of causing people to convert to another religion. Many fear that true religious freedom would be stifled by this new law and are calling on the international community to put pressure on Nepal before the bill is signed into law. 

3/16/2016 Nepal (UCAN) – Much fanfare was made when Nepal released its new constitution in September. I was one of the many who celebrated on the streets of Kathmandu, hoping it was part of a prosperous peaceful future for our nation.

But all was not what it appeared to be.

There are controversial elements within the constitution, most notably how it stifles religious freedom by making it illegal for anyone to promote or express their religion in a way that could result in someone changing their faith.

And this part includes hefty punishments.

The contentious bill — yet to be made law — proposes five years of imprisonment and a penalty of fifty thousand rupees for anyone found guilty of converting a person from one religion to another.

Little wonder that the United States expressed its concerns about such provisions last November.

If the bill is passed, it’s feared that it will result in a situation worse than Pakistan’s blasphemy law — a type of bill that can be misinterpreted and misused by anyone wanting to make a false accusation against anyone else.

More locally, this bill would mean Nepal would revert to a worse state of affairs than the previous Panchayat System (1960-1990), which resulted in minority religious groups being persecuted by the state.

The conversion laws will especially have ramifications on people such as the Dalits or minority ethnic groups who are discriminated against in the Hindu caste system and who seek to escape discrimination by changing their religion. Such a bill would make it illegal for them to do so.

For missionaries the problems this bill poses are obvious.

In February, Nepal’s legislature parliament issued a notice that citizens, stakeholders and civil society organizations can provide feedback on the bill and do so by mid-April.

Pastor Tanka Subedi — who is leading consultations among Christian church leaders to pressure for an amendment to the bill —says secularism is not a solo Christian agenda. Nepal is home to many other religions and this is an issue about freedom of religion, he says.

“The present anti-conversion bill proposal is targeted not only at Christians,” says Subedi

“This proposal not only bans conversion but also bans freedom to express and practice what you believe even though you have no intention to convert others,” he says.

“This bill is totally unacceptable and has a no respect to another person’s freedom and rights.”

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