» 08/23/2011, 00.00
Catholic Church in Nepal: anti-conversion laws are unconstitutional
Sections of the new penal code that violate religious freedom translated into English. The purpose is to stir up public opinion to pressure the government. International standards on Civil and Political Rights signed by the authorities after the fall of the Hindu monarchy, violated.
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - The Catholic Church condemns the Nepalese governments proposed new penal code that prohibits conversions. In recent days, Fr. Shilas Bogati and Fr. Pius Perumana, priests of the diocese of Kathmandu, have published a public report which highlights the inconsistency of sections 160.1 and 160.2. They say the sections are in conflict with Article 23 of the interim constitution, which guarantees every citizen the right to profess any creed.
Section 160.1 of the new Code provides that "no person has the right to convert or incite a citizen to conversion to religions other than their own. Section 160.2 punishes behaviours that offend the beliefs or traditions practiced by a Hindu caste or religious community. Penalties range from a fine of 500 euros to a maximum of five years in prison.
"Before proposing the new code - they say - the government did not consult the religious minorities. The Catholic Church learned the news in the Nepali media". To lobby the authorities and raising public awareness, the Nepali Church has circulated sections of the penal code that go against religious freedom on the Internet.
According to the two priests the offending sections are taken from the civil code dating back to the period of the monarchy, when Nepal was a Hindu state and there was no kind of religious freedom. "After the signing of the interim constitution in 2007 – they say - Nepal is a secular and multi-religious state in which equal treatment for all faiths is expected. Article. 23 provides that every person has the right to profess, practice and defend their religious beliefs. In addition, Nepal has acceded to international conventions on civil and political rights, which in Articles 18.1 and 18.2 provide for the religious freedom for every citizen. "
Proposed last June 23, the new law has to be approved by the end of August, but the resignation of Prime Minister Khanal has blocked the process, postponing it to a later date.
In recent weeks, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Baha'is, delivered a document to the members of government in which they are asking for a review of the anti-conversion bill.
Himachal Pradesh introduces anti-conversion law too
It is the first time that a state run by Congress has introduced a law of this kind, usually promoted by nationalists. The Congress Party tends to be against such laws that are in force in another five states of the Union. The Church is concerned.
Rajasthan nationalists present anti-conversion bill again
The bill had been sent back to Parliament without the governor's signature; she asked that it be submitted to the President's attention, because "it seems to affect people's fundamental right of religious freedom". The bishop of Jaipur told AsiaNews: "We pray that God may enlighten those who must decide about such an act."
Rajasthan governor refuses to sign anti-conversion bill
The State's religious minorities have welcomed the decision with "joy and gratitude", but Nationalist Hindus say: "She was obliged to sign the decree; this is an insult to democracy".
Anti-conversion bill in Chattisgarh
If the bill is approved, Chattisgarh will be the eighth state of the Union to have such a law. Whoever converts without informing the authorities, or converts another, risks steep fines and five years in prison.
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The proposal came from the country's largest associations of lay Catholics. "Only then will state governments show their good faith in threatening minorities with anti-conversion laws".
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