10/25/2013, 00.00
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Six Muslim leaders arrested for "illegal activities" in Nepal

by Kalpit Parajuli
Police arrested the men during a raid against a mosque in Bara (southern Nepal). For the authorities, they were not involved in religious activities, but in "illegal work". For the country's Muslim community, the government violated 'religious freedom'.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Nepali police arrested six Muslim leaders at s mosque in Bara (southern Nepal) for engaging in illegal activities in the country. The men are from Pakistan and had been in Nepal for about two months. After they were detained, they accused the government of violating their rights.

"The six Islamic leaders do not have a work permit and without such a document no one can work in Nepal," said Bara District Chief Kailas Bajimaya.

Under Nepali law, those who enter the country for religious reasons are not required a work permit. However, many of those who entered the country as religious eventually began working in other fields.

In view of this, the authorities recently launched an awareness campaign to get leaders from religious minorities to hire people only for religious purposes and not other tasks.

"We are not making illegal arrests," said Communications Minister Madhav Poudel, who is also the government's spokesman.

"Anyone detained must show that their activities fall within the terms of the law," Poudel explained. "Many foreign Christians and Buddhists work as religious in our country. However, the government monitors all religious activities for security reasons. This way, we can check for criminals who use religion for illegal activities."

"If the authorities determine that the six Muslim leaders came to Nepal for religious reasons, they will release them immediately," the minister added. "Otherwise, they will be expelled from the country."

The Muslim community reacted to the situation by criticising both the arrest and the manner in which it was carried out.

According Nazrul Hassan, secretary general of the Islamic Federation of Nepal, the police stormed the mosque scaring the faithful.

"The government," he noted, "has the right to check the legality of our activities and maintain security, but arresting someone inside a religious building breaches the principle of religious freedom.

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