06/06/2011, 00.00
NEPAL

New criminal code to stop conversions to Christianity

Kalpit Parajuli
Changes to the criminal code are currently under review. Anyone preaching or trying to persuade others to change religion could get up to five years in prison and almost US$ 700 in fines. Christians fear new code could restrict religious freedom and be used by Hindu extremists.
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Nepal plans to reform its criminal code and ban proselytising in order to stop conversions to Christianity and religions other than Hinduism and Buddhism. According to Article 160 of the new code, anyone who preaches or tries to persuade others to change religion could get up to five years in prison and receive a fine of 50,000 Nepali rupees (US$ 865). This has raised fear and anger among Christians who are concerned about restrictions on religious freedom in the country. Presented on 15 May, the new code needs the approval of parliament and President Ram Baran Yadav.

“The law is not against Christians who do great work in the service of the country,” Nepali Justice Minister Prabhu Sah told AsiaNews, “but is against the imposition of Christianity.”

Sah said that Hindus and Buddhists have complained about conversions by aggressive proselytising by Protestant communities. “These charges do not apply to Catholics,” the minister said.

Isu Jang Karki, head of the Nepal Christian Society, a Protestant group, slams the government proposal, saying that the charges about forced conversions are false.

Religious minorities are not represented in parliament and the new code could be adopted without Christian input. Moreover, it could be used by Hindu extremists.

Nepal became a secular state in 2007 after centuries of Hindu absolutist monarchy. According to the transitional constitution, adopted under the aegis of the United Nations, proselytising is banned, but all Nepali citizens are free to express their faith, including through missionary and charity work.

According to some Church officials, thousands of Hindus have converted to Christianity after the fall of the monarchy. Each Sunday, more than 200 non-Christians attend Mass in Kathmandu’s Catholic cathedral.

However, recent political and economic instability caused by a power struggle among secular parties has strengthened Hindu movements, which seek the restoration of the monarchy and want to end conversions at all cost.

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