Nepal’s Christians are concerned that the Himalayan nation’s new constitution will make evangelism illegal.
As currently proposed, the new constitution would make it a criminal offense for anyone to play any part in another person changing their religion – with a maximum penalty of five years in jail and a hefty fine, according to the Christian advocacy groups Release International and Compass Direct.
Nepal’s Christian leaders are also alarmed that they have not been consulted over the proposed constitutional changes – particularly since Prime Minister Jhalnath Khanal has already presented the draft documents to the Cabinet. The proposed constitution will now go to parliamentary committee for revision and approval, before being passed to the Constituent Assembly – Nepal’s interim Parliament – to be passed into law.
Nepal is predominantly Hindu. President Ram Baran Yadav has final approval – and the power of veto.
Christians say they are particularly concerned over Clause 160 of the draft Act of Offense Against Religions which would make it illegal to “’convert a person or abet him to change his religion” whether this be with or without “inducements.”
Christians fear that this could jeopardise a number of activities that they see as central to fulfilling the Great Commission to spread the Gospel worldwide.
There are other concerns that the new constitution would make disaster relief work illegal. Also banned could be any challenge of social injustices such as caste oppression and women’s inequality.
Opposing the Hindu caste system — now technically illegal in India, but still rampant — would be illegal since the constitution prohibits activities that offend “religious feelings.”
Christian leaders are seeking further information and legal advice in an effort to ensure that they are allowed input in to the process from now on.
Some Nepalese Christians fear that the new restrictions are being patterned after “anti-conversion” legislation in some states of neighboring India. Those laws have been misused against Christians — where it has become illegal to give away Bibles or provide free medical services. Such actions are ruled as “bribery” paying Hindus to become Christians.
Nepal became a secular state when the Hindu monarchy was abolished and the country was declared a republic in 2008. Under its transitional constitution, “proselytising” is already banned but Nepali citizens are currently ”free to express their faith,” including through charity work.