07/21/2016, 13.14
NEPAL
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Kathmandu: Eight Christians on trial for proselytising, i.e. handing out copies of the Bible

Local sources complain that the authorities are carrying out a crackdown against the local Christian community. This is the first trial related to religious freedom since the country’s secular Constitution came into effect in 2015. The defendants are out on bail. Trial set to start on 23 July.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Nepal’s first religious freedom case since the country’s new Constitution came into effect last September is due to come to trial on Saturday.

Eight Christians, seven lay people and their pastor from a Protestant community, are on trial for handing out copies of the Bible at a Christian school whilst helping children through the trauma of last year’s earthquake.

According to the new constitution of the Himalayan state, every act geared towards evangelisation is considered proselytising and can be prosecuted under the law.

The defendants were arrested on 9 June, when police stopped them as they handed religious materials to children at a Christian school in Dolakha, in Nepal’s northern district, one of the hardest hit in the quake.

They allegedly violate Article 26 paragraph 3 of the Constitution, which bans acts “contrary to public health, decency and morality, or behave or act or make others act to disturb public law and order situation, or convert a person of one religion to another religion”.

The seven men and one woman have denied the charges. They said that they handed out the sacred text in the mixed school, which is open to pupils of different beliefs, "only to Christian students" who "had made the request" earlier.

Barnabas Shrestha, president of Teach Nepal, said that police tried to extort a confession as they arrested the eight Christians. He denied that the eight had preached the Gospel for the purpose of proselytising.

Meanwhile, local sources confirm that freedom of worship for Christians in Nepal is increasingly under attack.

Last week the government announced new, heavy fees for Christian-run schools and orphanages in Kathmandu. The authorities also said that they might close them down and seize them if they found Christian books and materials.

The law bans communal prayer with children and the latter’s participation in groups that listen to biblical readings and engage in biblical reflection.

Increasingly, Christian associations and NGOs have seen their freedom of movement curtailed.

Under Nepal’s new constitution, all forms of evangelisation are deemed proselytising and illegal.

The government crackdown seems to be due to Hindu nationalists who still resent the decision of the constituent assembly to make Nepal a secular state.

The eight defendants are currently out on bail, awaiting trial on 23 July.

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