Nepali court clears Christians in proselytizing case
Persecution | Ruling could help determine how government plans to interpret evangelism ban
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 12/12/16, 10:42 am
A district court in Nepal dropped a case last week against eight Christians who distributed a comic book telling the story of Jesus.
Authorities in Chariok, Nepal, arrested and charged the group in June. The accused— five Teach Nepal workers, two school principals, and a pastor—were doing grief and trauma counseling in two Christian schools in Dolahka, part of the country hardest hit by the 2015 earthquake. All faced accusations of illegally proselytizing under Nepal’s new constitution, although they denied trying to convert anyone to Christianity.
“Actually, normally, we do not give books to other people. Since these two schools were run by Christians, we thought it will be OK to give the books to the children,” Teach Nepal chairman Barnabas Shrestha told World Watch Monitor. But the arresting officers “wanted our people to say yes, they have preached the gospel … which is not true,” he said.
Article 26 of Nepal’s newly adopted constitution prohibits any “act to convert another person from one religion to another or any act or behavior to undermine or jeopardize the religion of each other.” Working together, the constitution and a new criminal code essentially ban conversion and evangelism.
Hindu nationalist parties in Nepal, which wanted the nation to become officially Hindu again, lobbied for the ban. Although the country remains officially secular, Christian and Muslim minorities feared authorities would use Article 26 to persecute them.
After postponing the final hearing four times, the court delivered an oral verdict on Dec. 6, acquitting all eight Christians and ordering their bail money returned, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
Pastor Tanka Subedi, leader of Nepal’s Religious Liberty Forum and co-chairman of the Nepal Christian Society, called the verdict “good” and a “bold decision.”
“This has raised our trust in the judicial system of Nepal and democracy,” he said. But other Christians remain jailed, including five people arrested three months ago in Salyan district. Courts are considering two other cases in Lalitpur.
According to Australia’s Eternity News, authorities have tried to prosecute Christians for baptisms.
Although the verdict in the comic book case is good news, the written ruling that comes out in about a month will give Nepali Christians a better idea of how the government intends to interpret the statute on conversion, said William Stark of International Christian Concern.
“I’m still very concerned about what this means for religious freedom overall in Nepal,” he said.