Nepal Outlaws Conversion, Evangelism
Last month, Nepal’s President Bidhya Devi Bhandari signed into law legislation that criminalizes conversion and evangelism, sending lawbreakers to jail and slapping them with a large fine.
President Bhandari signed the bill on October 16, making it illegal to convert or hurt “religious sentiment.” If caught, residents or foreigners could get five years behind bars and a fine of 50,000 rupees (about $500 USD). After jail time, foreigners will be deported. Ironically, the bill was signed the same day that Nepal was elected as a new member of the UN Human Rights Council.
According to The Christian Post, the president was urged by freedom activists not to sign the bill. “We are deeply saddened that this bill is now law,” said Pastor Tanka Subedi, founding member and chair of Dharmik Chautari Nepal and Religious Liberty Forum Nepal (RLF). “Our appeals to the president and other policy makers to amend this have been ignored. Nepali government [has] taken a regressive step as this law severely restricts our freedom of expression and our freedom of religion or belief.”
The law’s enactment only codifies punishments that were already taking place in Nepal. In June, 2016, eight Christians in Charikot were arrested for handing out Christian comic books that told the story of Jesus. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the arrests were only “part of a worrying trend of growing state repression of religious freedom in Nepal.”
CSW’s CEO Mervyn Thomas voiced concern about the parallels between Nepal and India and Pakistan:
We have seen how anti conversion laws in India and blasphemy laws in Pakistan are used to fuel religious tension and target religious minorities. Article 26(3) of the Nepali constitution has already been used in this way, as seen in the case of eight Christians in Charikot, who were charged with forcible conversion after distributing Christian comic booklets. We urge the Nepali government to repeal this unjust law and amend Article 26 (3) of the constitution as they both curtail the right to freedom of religion or belief and undermine Nepal’s commitments under international law, a contradiction made even more striking as Nepal assumes its seat on the Human Rights Council.”
The new law is similar to Pakistan’s blasphemy law, reported the Catholic Herald. The blasphemy law is frequently used to harass minorities, specifically Christians. Similarly, in India, 10 churches in the Tamil Nadu state have been banned from holding services because of state orders.
One Nepalese pastor from Kathmandu spoke with The Stream about the new law’s implications. “Yes friend, this is so bad,” said David Tamang. “If I convert one person, or those people report to the police, we get  years in jail, and need to pay the government $500 too … It’s so hard to work for the gospel. Please, please pray for us.”
Christians are also having a hard time finding a place to hold worship, particularly from Hindu landlords, said Tamang.
Hindu people don’t want to give us use of houses for fellowship or renting. Therefore, we are praying to get our own church land for making a fellowship hall. We want to buy land, but we don’t have much funds. We need big prayer and support. We are praying for one hundred thousand dollars for church land and building. Please pray and share with believers who want to help.