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Christian groups oppose Nepal’s ‘curbs’ on religious activities

Nepal is a constitutionally secular state but bans forced religious conversion
A devotee performs a prayer ritual in front of the sculpture of a Hindu god that was reinstalled in Patan on the outskirts of Kathmandu in this file image.

A devotee performs a prayer ritual in front of the sculpture of a Hindu god that was reinstalled in Patan on the outskirts of Kathmandu in this file image. (Photo: Prakash Mathema/AFP)

Published: April 15, 2024 11:57 AM GMT
Updated: April 15, 2024 12:09 PM GMT

Two leading Christian groups in Nepal have strongly criticized a government order that allegedly seeks to curb religious activities aimed at the promotion of religions and religious conversions in the country.

The government circular targets the Christian community and infringes on their constitutional right to freedom of religion, the Nepal Christian Society (NCS) and National Churches Fellowship of Nepal (NCFN) said in a joint statement on April 12.

The state is trying to curtail Christians’ rights to practice and profess their religious belief and values, the groups said referring to the circular dated April 7.

Despite being a secular state, religious minorities particularly Christians are targeted for discrimination, violence, and persecution by the state bodies, the statement read.

Nepal Federal Ministry of Home Affairs issued the circular to all 77 district administration offices, asking officials to warn them about various individuals and organizations holding religious conferences, gatherings, and orientation programs in some districts to promote religion and religious conversions.

The ministry also directed the local government bodies to keep a close eye on any such activities and take immediate action as needed.

The circular further urged the authorities to track the movement of foreign nationals who are found illegally involved in propagating religion-related activities and take action.

Home Ministry spokesman Narayan Prasad Bhattarai said the circular came after a complaint was registered.

"The government acted upon a complaint registered by an individual concerned over the growing cases of promotion of religion and religious conversion which is prohibited by the constitution," said Bhattarai.

"The government's circular is an effort to ensure the effective implementation of the constitutional right that safeguards all religions and beliefs," he added.

The circular does not specifically mention any religion or religious groups. However, Christian leaders alleged their community is the prime target.

"It is systematic targeting of Christians who are among the most persecuted for their beliefs, mostly on charges of forced religious conversion, which is completely baseless," says Pastor Dilli Ram Paudel, the NCS secretary general.

Article 26 of Nepal's constitution guarantees every individual with faith to profess, practice, and protect his or her religion per his or her conviction.

However, Article 26 (3) of the constitution bars anyone from indulging in forced conversion and makes it a punishable offense.

"We will no longer be able to freely profess our beliefs and talk about Jesus to those who might be interested to know more about it. Even attending the Mass in Church would come under the scrutiny of the authorities," Paudel said.

Pastor Tanka Subedi with the Family of God Church said the government has not named any particular religious individual or groups, but it is quite clear that the members of the Christian communities are the ones who are being persecuted.

Hindu-majority Nepal has seen a rise in Hindu nationalist politics and religious intolerance in recent years.

Hardline Hindu groups joined by conservative political parties marched on the streets recently, seeking to establish a Hindu theocratic state and abolish secularism from the constitution.

Hindu mobs have attacked minority groups such as Christians and Muslims and a series of cases have been filed against Christians on charges of forced religious conversion, which Christians have vehemently denied as fabricated.

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