New statute puts restrictions on religious conversion, report says

Kathmandu, July 1

The 'Annual Report on the State of Freedom of Religion or Belief in the World 2015' by the European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance has criticised that the new 2015 constitution preserves Nepal as a secular state but increases restrictions on religious conversion.

Nepal did not feature in the 2014-2015 FoRB report.

However, the intergroup finds that recent developments are cause for concern and warrant further analysis. “While the new 2015 constitution preserves Nepal as a secular state, it also increases restrictions on religious conversion,” said the report released yesterday.

“Article (1) of the Constitution of Nepal makes reference only to the right to profess, practice, preserve, or be free from religion, but not to choose or to change one’s religion. It is unclear whether this comprises any religion, including one adopted by choice, or whether this could be interpreted as a pretext to limit religion to the one inherited through birth, family tradition, or cultural predominance. The constitution also makes proselytism and conversion criminal acts, banning the right to peacefully spread one’s faith,” said the report.

The report further said that a recent proposal for an ‘anti-conversion bill’ is fuelling concerns regarding the government’s stance providing its citizens with the freedom to change religion. The bill is currently tabled in the Parliament.

According to Article 26 (3) of the constitution, ‘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 jeopardise other’s religion and such act shall be punishable by law’.

For the time being, reports of official harassment are rare, indicating religious tolerance is broadly practiced in the country.