A Christian couple was deported by the Nepalese government in July after being charged with the crime of “forceful religious conversion”.
They were under allegations of violating their business visa as well as converting Nepali Hindus to Christianity.
Filipino De Vera Richard and Indonesian Rita Gonga were meant to be running a restaurant on a business visa issued to them in November 2017.
But in May of this year, the government launched an investigation against them after receiving a complaint.
The couple were found to be serving as pastors at Every Nation Church in Kumaripati, which violated the terms and conditions of their business visa, and were also accused of “converting Hindus into Christians”.
Richard and Gonga were given the stipulated fine of NPR 50,000 (roughly USD 450) for unlawful proselytisation but escaped imprisonment. They were then deported and banned from entering Nepal for a year.
Their case slightly preceded the enactment in August 2018 of the new Criminal Code of Nepal, which criminalizes all religious conversions and the “hurting of religious sentiment” of another faith group.
Apart from “forceful religious conversion”, the bill also forbids “operating promotional campaigns with the motive of encouraging individuals to convert to a new religion.”
The penalty if found guilty is five years of imprisonment, the same fine and deportation within seven days after release.
The Nepali population of close to 30 million is majority Hindu (more than 80%t) with an estimated 375,000 Christians.
While the number of Christians has been growing at an annual rate of 10–20% over the past few decades, there are nationalist parties that persist in campaigning for the reinstatement of Nepal as a Hindu state.
In 2008, Nepal formally became an officially secular republic through a parliamentary declaration.
Pastor Tanka Subedi, chair of the Religious Liberty Forum Nepal and interfaith group Dharmik Chautari Nepal, said “this law severely restricts our freedom of expression and our freedom of religion or belief.”
It is feared that the law might be used to harass and persecute religious minorities, as has been the case in the “blasphemy law” in Pakistan.
Materials used by kind permission of the original author.