Two deported on proselytisation charge

Kathmandu, July 9

The government has deported two foreigners to their respective countries on charges of forceful religious conversion, which is a crime in Nepal.

Philippine national De Vera Richard and his Indonesian wife Rita Gonga, who were staying in Nepal on the business visa, allegedly converted Nepali Hindus to Christianity. The two, who were operating a restaurant in Pulchowk and were working as pastors at a church in Lalitpur, were deported to their countries on Friday. They have been prohibited from entering Nepal for a year.

Proselytisation is a criminal offence in Nepal. Article 26 of the constitution states that ‘no person shall behave, act or make others act to disturb public law and order situation or convert a person of one religion to another or disturb the religion of other people; “Such an act shall be punished by law,” states the constitution.

The Criminal (Code) Act of Nepal, which was enacted in October 2017, bars people from engaging in acts of forceful religious conversion or operating promotional campaigns with the motive of encouraging individuals to convert to a new religion. People found guilty of such offence can be imprisoned for five years and fined Rs 50,000, as per the act.

The duo had violated these legal provisions and had also misused their business visas, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. They were fined Rs 50,000, but were not imprisoned.

The two had fallen under government radar after a complaint was lodged at the MoHA on May 21. The ministry then directed the Department of Immigration to launch an investigation against the couple.

The probe found that the duo had been staying in Nepal on a one-year business visa issued on November 28. The investigation also found that the two were working as pastors at Every Nation Church in Kumaripati and ‘were converting Hindus into Christians’. The job they were performing at the church was in violation of the terms and conditions of the business visa extended to them.

The Immigration Regulation states that foreigners should not engage in works other than those for which the visa has been provided. Violation of this rule may result in annulment of visa extended to foreigners, the regulation adds.

The Department of Immigration had cancelled the visa of the two based on this legal provision. The government has the authority to deport foreigners whose visas have been cancelled. The department recently deported around a dozen foreign nationals for violating Nepal’s laws, according to DoI Director General Dipak Kafle.

An estimated 375,000 Nepalis follow Christianity. The number of Christians has been growing at a rate of 10 to 20 per cent annually since the country became a secular nation in 2007, as Dalits and many people from indigenous groups, who face discrimination because of the prevalence of the caste system, have started embracing Christianity. This is why the Christian community has demanded that the Criminal (Code) Act be amended.