Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has pledged to defend freedom of conscience whereby every citizen will have the right to choose his or her faith, said NHRC president Anup Raj Sharma, after his organisation received a petition from the National Christian Federation, asking that the state guarantee full freedom of conscience to religious minorities.
The state agency has already turned the request over to the government and will soon meet with the prime minister and the president of Nepal.
"In 1990 some people who had converted to Christianity from Hinduism were sent to prison," said Sharma, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court. "I issued orders for their release."
At that time, Nepal was an absolute monarchy under a Hindu dynasty and there was no freedom of religion. After 2006, when the king was stripped of his powers, the country became a democracy.
However, only recently have religious minorities, especially Christians and Muslims, been allowed to build their own places of worship and celebrate religious services in public.
Hinduism remains the religion of the majority, 81.3 per cent of the population. Buddhists (9 per cent) and Muslims (4.4 per cent) are the largest majorities. Christians represent 1.4 per cent of the population.
Although religious freedom exists, conversion to Christianity is still opposed.
"The state should be secular and guarantee more rights to minorities, protecting them from the Hindu majority," NHRC president said.
"The NHRC is ready to fight for the rights of all citizens of Nepal. Christians have my word: I will raise the Christian voice before the competent authority."
Sharma also criticised the "ignorance" shown by the authorities in allocating land for Christian cemeteries. He described the issue as "very serious."
Sundar Thapa, president of the National Christian Federation, noted that "if the government denies Christians their rights, a hunger strike will begin in different parts of the country."