A new Nepal anti-conversion law went into effect last week and Christians in the Asian kingdom are worried they are about to lose their religious freedoms.
Evangelizing has long been against the law in Nepal, but the new regulations add penalties including five years in jail and a fine. Any foreigner found guilty of such practice will be deported within a week.
Nepal is considered a Hindu kingdom but it also allows for freedom of religion. The people of Nepal deposed their monarch in May 2008 after Maoists claimed victory in their 10-year insurgency against the government. Years of debate over a new constitution ensued and lawmakers finally adopted one in September 2015.
Backers pledged the government would be democratic and secular, but some suggest the anti-conversion law proves otherwise.
John Pudaite of Bibles for the World told Mission News Network (MNN), “Those who are Hindu can follow Hinduism, and those who are Muslim or Buddhist can follow their religion, and Christians likewise, but they are not allowed to convert from one religion to another,” Pudaite says.
Whether you’re Muslim or Christian or Hindu or Buddhist or anything else, you’re expected to stay that way.
According to David Curry of Open Doors USA, the change is part of a bigger push by India to “Hinduize” their neighbors.
“[India is] trying to ‘Hinduize’ their country, and Nepal has been under great pressure from India to strengthen their Hindu presence,” says Curry.
“There’s been increasing pressure and persecution of Christians in Nepal.”
Last month, a Christian couple was deported, purportedly for violated their visas, but the Himalayan times wrote the pair was accused of proselytism.
De Vera Richard, from the Philippines, and his Indonesian wife, Rita Gonga, had been staying in Nepal on business visas and were running a restaurant, but were also reportedly pastors of a church in Lalitpur, a city just south of the capital Kathmandu, historically known as Patan.
Following a complaint lodged with the Ministry of Home Affairs, an investigation was launched which found that the couple were working as pastors at Every Nation Church in Kumaripati, a residential area in Lalitpur, and “were converting Hindus into Christians,” according to the Times.
A unnamed partner with Asian Access told MNN, “There is a little bit [of] fear in the church. Right now [the] government is not interfering with the church. There are other forces actually affecting the church and burning and bombing and actually bringing [fear] to the believers.”
In May, Nepal’s two communist parties combined, creating the unified Nepal Communist Party (NCP). So far, the government has not reacted to these attacks.
NGOs in particular, both international and local, have felt threatened. The Asian Access partner says the government is watching certain foreign groups very closely.
“They have announced that all the [missionaries] will be watched carefully if they’re engaged in any conversion activity. And if they have found that [they are] illegally doing any of these type of things [they] will be deported and visa will not be renewed anymore.”
The changes have Christians concerned.
Prior to its passage, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) warned the laws would severely restrict religious freedom, especially for Christians. The group said believers can be punished simply for expressing their belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of the one true God. Such a statement could offend sentiments of Hindus because they believe in many other gods. The same statement could offend Muslims who do not believe Jesus is the son of God.