UPDATE: A court in Nepal has dropped a case against eight Christians, the first case about freedom of religion since the country’s new constitution was implemented in 2015.
The seven men and one woman, all counsellors, were charged with ‘proselytising’ – apparently outlawed in the new constitution – after giving out a pamphlet about Jesus in a Christian school, while helping children through the trauma of the 2015 earthquake.
The charges against them all have been dropped. Nepali Christian leaders have welcomed their acquittal.
[1 August 2016]
Eight Nepali Christians are on trial this month, arrested for distributing a pamphlet about Jesus in a school.
It is Nepal’s first religious freedom case since the country’s new Constitution was implemented in September last year.
While Nepal recognises the right to be Christian, converting someone to a different religion is prohibited. A new clause in the Constitution, Article 31(3) took that further, stating “any act to convert another person from one religion to another, or any act or behaviour to undermine or jeopardise the religion of another will be punishable by law.”
Open Doors, an organisation working to strengthen the persecuted church, says the freedom of Nepal’s Christians is “increasingly under threat.”
The eight Christians arrested are from an organisation called Teach Nepal, which says the group were invited by the school to act as counsellors for children affected by last year’s devastating earthquakes. While the school is a Christian school, not all the students are Christian.
Chairman of Teach Nepal, Barnabas Shrestha told World Watch Monitor that the group had “done nothing wrong.”
“Our organisation never tried to convert any children. Actually, normally, we do not give books to other people. Since these two schools were run by Christians, we thought it will be okay to give the books to the children.”
The Australian leader of another Christian charity that has been working in Nepal for over 60 years told Eternity there is a “huge amount of uncertainty” within the Christian community in Nepal. That uncertainty made him reluctant to be identified, for the sake of those working with the charity on the ground in Nepal.
“There have been cases in the past where baptism groups have been arrested. Authorities have tried to prosecute those carrying out the baptisms, but the people being baptised have said, ‘No, this is a choice that we made and we have not been pressured into this.’ So there hasn’t been a real case to make against anyone so far,” he told Eternity.
Eternity’s contact said that there has been an atmosphere of concern in the Christian community since the group’s arrest in June. Many have suggested it is part of a wider crackdown on Christianity.
He says the clause in the Constitution about converting people from one religion to another has been felt in the country as an attempt to restrict Christianity’s growth.
“What [the Government] doesn’t want to see happening is an attempt to convert people from one religion to another. But in Nepal, that really only applies to Christianity. Both Hinduism and Buddhism – which make up about 90 per cent of the population – don’t really evangelise. And the Muslim population in Nepal are a distinct people group that don’t have much to do with other groups in the country. So the sense is that the Constitution is drafted to limit the growth of the Nepali church.”
But, in his opinion, that effort has come too late.
“I think the Nepali church is extremely strong. This attempt to restrict the growth of the church is actually too late.”
In fact, earlier this year the World Christian Database, which tracks global trends in Christianity, named Nepal as one of the fastest-growing Christian populations in the world.
He says he has been personally encouraged seeing the response of Nepali Christians to the news of the arrests.
“Amid the fear of increased persecution, a lot of Christians were coming out on social media saying they were prepared to speak out about their faith. It’s exciting to see the passion and bravery of Nepali Christians. There’s a lot we can learn from that here in Australia.”