Nepal’s Religious Minorities Face an Uphill Battle
01/17/2020 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Nepal’s constitution, established in 2015, pays lip some service to the ideal of religious freedom. Article 26.1 guarantees the freedom of all persons to “profess, practice, and preserve” their religion in accordance with their faith. Article 26.2 promises the right of every religious denomination to maintain an independent existence and own property. Nepalese Christians enjoy the freedom to practice their faith as required of them by their consciences.
But do they really? A pastor in Nepal recently endured numerous death threats after a video of him sharing his testimony went viral in 2019. He went into hiding and his case made international news, but he is not alone in the harassment that he experienced. 17 Christians, including two Americans, have been arrested and charged since 2018 under an anti-conversion law signed by President Bidhya Devi Bhandari. This law makes it a criminal act to convert or “hurt the religious sentiment” of others—a thinly-veiled move to criminalize minority religious belief.
All of this begs a question—how, if religious freedom is enshrined in the Nepalese Constitution, can a law be passed which essentially outlaws conversion and the expression of minority religious beliefs? The answer is that the place of religious freedom in the Nepalese Constitution is shaky at best and nonexistent at worst.
While Articles 26.1 & 2 claim to safeguard freedom of religion in Nepal and offer vague assurances to that effect, Article 26.3 laws an explicit groundwork for laws like the 2018 anti-conversion law. It says that, “while exercising the right [to freedom of religion], no person shall act…in a manner which is contrary to public health, decency and morality” and it then goes on to specifically prohibit converting another person. “Such an act,” Article 26.3 warns, “shall be punishable by law.”
Despite the stiff governmental opposition that it faces, the Nepalese church has seen rapid growth in recent years. In fact, some observers credit Nepal with being home to one of the fastest-growing churches in the world. Since 2008, when Nepal transitioned away from its Hindu monarchy towards a republican form of government, it is estimated that Nepal’s Christian population has grown from .2 to 1.5%.
Regardless of the growth seen in the Nepalese church, the Constitution provides little more than a nod to the idea of religious freedom, and Nepalese Christians—alongside other religious minorities in that country—face an uphill battle in the fight to exercise and share their religion legally. Serious international attention is needed on this subject, and countries like the United States should use their influence to pressure Nepal to extend freedom of religion to its citizens.