Seven lay people and a clergyman could face trial as the court vets the evidence to rule on the indictment. The accused were arrested in June for distributing copies of the holy book at a school in Dolakha District. In fact, the students who got the Bibles were Christians and had asked for a copy. Hindu nationalist groups demand the maximum sentence.
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Seven Protestant Christians and a pastor could be tried for distributing Bibles to school children for the purpose of proselytising. Local sources report that a trial date has not yet been set, but that the court is preparing to charge the suspects.
Police arrested the seven on 8 June for handing out Christian religious material to children at a school in Dolakha, a district in northern Nepal, an area that was particularly affected by last year’s devastating earthquake.
A few days later, on 14 June, the authorities also took into custody Rev Shakti Pakhrin for his ties with the people already under investigation for proselytising.
A few days after their arrest, the eight Christians – who include two teachers and activists working for the association Teach Nepal, which is actively involved in post-quake reconstruction – were released with the obligation to appear in court.
The indictment against them is that of distributing Bibles for the purpose of converting students. Police, said District Police Chief Bel Bahadur Pande, acted after receiving complaints from local politicians and guardians over Bibles being handed out.
The accused are said to have violated Article 26, paragraph 3, of the Constitution of Nepal, which regulates religious freedom and states that “no person shall act or make others act in a manner which is contrary to public health, decency and morality, or [. . .] convert a person of one religion to another religion”.
The eight Christians have rejected the accusations, pointing out that they only gave copies of the Bible “to Christian students” who had asked for them. “We only gave it to them,” said Prakash Pradhan, principal of Mount Valley Academy, a local private school.
Christian leaders and organisations came to the defence of the eight accused whom they say were tortured and unjustifiably detained.
For Tank Subedi, founder of the Family of God, the accused were involved in a campaign to raise awareness. As others from other religions do, they might have cited Biblical passages, “but this does not constitute a crime in a secular nation.”
Meanwhile, the Federation of National Christian Nepal (FNCN) submitted a memorandum of defence to Home Affairs Minister Shakti Bahadur Basnet, calling for the accused to be released immediately.
“Accusations against them are false and designed to create fear among other Christians,” he said.
By contrast, Hindu nationalists want the government to impose the maximum sentence allowed under the law.