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New laws could 'ban conversions'

Christians fear article in criminal code revamp will end secularism

New laws could 'ban conversions'
A group baptism ceremony in Kathmandu (File photo)
Chirendra Satyal, Kathmandu

June 27, 2011

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Christians have expressed alarm at a draft for a new criminal code put before parliament recently that could see the return of a ban on religious conversions. The law and justice ministry, in consultation with judges, presented the drafts of new criminal and civil codes of law to parliament on June 23. The new codes follow a four-year review by a government committee to revamp outdated civil and penal codes. However, they contain provisions to re-criminalize evangelization and religious conversion, effectively renouncing secularism which the Himalayan country declared in 2006 and returning to its former status as the world’s only Hindu state. Article 160 of the proposed criminal code would prohibit any act which may cause a person to convert from a traditional community or faith to another, and would carry hefty fines and imprisonment for up to five years. According to Caritas Nepal’s director, Father Silas Bogati, he and the regional superior of the Nepal Jesuit Society, as well as other Christian leaders, have been meeting with ambassadors from various countries and also national leaders to express Christian concerns over the draft code. The United Christian Alliance of Nepal, meanwhile, held an emergency meeting at the National Council of Churches office in Kathmandu during the weekend, issuing a statement which highlighted Christian fears. “We expressed our concern about why new laws were drawn up when the new constitution itself has not been written in draft form,” said alliance member Pastor Kali Bahadur Rokkya, who is also an executive member of the Nepal National Human Rights Commission. “When one talks of a new Nepal – some of these laws reflect the old and outdated Nepal,” he added. Nepal currently has an interim constitution that provides for a Constituent Assembly, which is charged with writing a new constitution. The body has missed two earlier deadlines and has been given until August 28 to present a draft. Various international organizations expressed concern over the criminal code before it was put before parliament. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) urged the government on June 17 not to go down a road “which will see significant restrictions on religious freedom”. The code would ban all religious propagation in Nepal, CSW said.
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