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ICC Note:

Christian rights advocates fear Nepal’s new anti-conversion bill, recently signed into law by the country’s president, will only lead to increased Christian persecution. Similar laws in India have been widely abused by Hindu radicals to harass and persecute Christian religious leaders. It is feared this pattern of abuse will spread to Nepal, which is also a Hindu majority nation. According to reports, the law is set to become effective in August 2018. 

10/25/2017 Nepal (The Christian Times) – Nepali President Bidhya Devi Bhandari has approved a Criminal Code Bill that includes a provision that outlaws religious conversion and the “hurting of religious sentiment.”

According to the international human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Bhandari signed the bill into law on Oct. 16, despite appeals from human rights advocates not to approve the measure.

“We are deeply saddened that this Bill is now law. Our appeals to the president and other policy makers to amend this have been ignored. Nepali government have taken a regressive step as this law severely restricts our freedom of expression and our freedom of religion or belief,” said Pastor Tanka Subedi, founding member and chair of Dharmik Chautari Nepal and Religious Liberty Forum Nepal (RLF).

The bill, which was passed by the Nepali parliament on Aug. 8, was signed on the same day that Nepal was elected by the U.N. General Assembly as one of 15 new members of the U.N. Human Rights Council. CSW, a human rights group accredited with United Nations consultative status, noted that it would be the first time that Nepal would hold such a role when it starts its term in office on Jan. 1, 2018.

The legislation is one of several measures that have been drafted to reform the country’s penal code in line with its constitution, which stipulates that “Sanatana Dharma” (Hindu faith) will be protected by the state. Article 26 (3) of Nepal’s constitution places a restriction on religious conversion and the free expression of one’s religion.

There had been concerns that Clause 160 in Section 9 of the legislation, the portion that bans religious conversions, could be used to limit a wide variety of religious expression and belief. Some have feared that the clause could also be used to claim that charitable activities of religious groups or people speaking about their faith as attempts at conversion.

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