Four devout Christians have been arrested in Nepal. Their crime? Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The four believers; ul Bahadur Pariyar, Rupa Sonam, Chandrakali Rawat, and Bhim Kumari, were arrested in the Salyan District on charges of “preaching Christianity.” According to International Christian Concern (ICC), authorities confiscated a bag of faith-based literature at the time of the arrest. The men are currently being detained under the country’s draconian anti-conversion law.
In comments made to Faithwire, ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark, noted the detainees are “unable to afford lawyers to represent them” at this time, and remain behind bars until a trial can be arranged.
What does the anti-conversion law actually say?
The clause specific clause in question is contained within Article 26 (3) of the constitution, and reads as follows:
“No person shall, in the exercise of the right conferred by this Article, do, or cause to be done, any act which may be contrary to public health, decency and morality or breach public peace, or convert another person from one religion to another or any act or conduct that may jeopardize other’s religion and such act shall be punishable by law.”
The anti-religion guidelines were only bolstered in 2018 when a new penal code came into law — Section 158 of the law warns that “no person shall convert anyone from one religion to another or make attempt to or abet such conversion.” Violating the penal code can land you with a fine of up to 50,000 rupees, and even five years behind bars.
“Since the law has been added, biased police officers have been able to arrest Christians and simply charge them with attempted conversions to justify the arrests,” Stark explained. “Seventeen Christians have been accused and arrested under the anti-conversion law in 2019 alone. Those arrested include both Nepalese Christians and foreigners, including two Americans. Forced deportations have been the results of foreign Christians being accused and arrested.”
The knock-on effect from these legal changes has been a “significant level of fear among Nepal’s Christian community,” Stark added, noting that the “ambiguity” of the law is extremely unnerving.
“As the law states, any behavior or act that causes someone to convert is punishable by law,” he said. “It’s hard to understand what type of behavior is criminalized.”
Stark gave an example to highlight the absurdity of the law:
“Let’s say a Christian is walking down the street and openly carrying his Bible. A non-Christian then stops him and asks him what book he is carrying. Is this Christian now in a potential criminal crisis? What if this conversation leads to the non-Christian asking more about Christianity and eventually converting? That is why Christians are so afraid of this law.”
But far from being poorly defined by mistake, Stark insisted that the law was “ambiguous by design.”
“It allows police to widely implement, perhaps abuse, the law against Christians,” he said, “causing fear amongst the Christian community.”