Nepal’s population of 31 million is majority Hindu (81 per cent) with 9 per cent Buddhists, 4.4 per cent Muslims and 1.4 per cent Christians – but note that this is one of the fastest growing Christian communities in the world: from zero Christians in 1951, in 2001 there were over 100,000 and in 2011, 375,000; many put the number much higher.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2020
With President Modi’s BJP Hindu growing nationalist agenda in neighbouring India, Nepal is under pressure to make Hinduism its pre-eminent national religion.
Nepal’s 2015 Constitution provides for freedom of religion and the freedom of expression. While it officially recognized Nepal as a secular state, a new Code in August 2018 criminalised religious conversion, whether coerced or not. Anyone who converts a person “from one religion to another or make attempt to or abet such conversion” risks up to five years in prison and a fine of up to US$415 (Penal Code, Art. 26.3). This broad language has led to the imprisonment of individuals who exercise their constitutional right to profess and practice religion, as well as to simply exercise their guaranteed freedom of speech, which brings violation of obligations under the ICCPR.
Nepal has used the pandemic and its vague Penal code as cover for arbitrary arrests and denial of fundamental rights.
The majority of Muslims live near the Indian border, affected by Indian media campaigns portraying Muslims as responsible for the spread of COVID-19; cases of discrimination and physical violence resulted – by state and non-state actors; On April 21, 2020, 4 Muslim employees were expelled from a factory in Rupandehi, falsely accused of that they were carrying COVID-19. In May, several Muslims in the Parsa District sustained injuries after an attack by a group of Hindus.
The Intellectual Muslims Association of Nepal (IMAN) reported to police dozens of online posts and distribution of anti-Muslim hate messages.
A Christian pastor, Keshav Raj Acharya, was arrested in Kaski on 22 March 2020 – before lockdown orders – for a prayer (that the COVID-19 would “go away and die” in Jesus’ name) on YouTube on February 22, 2020. He was imprisoned for violating public health orders, even though he prayed inside his church before lockdown restrictions. The court fined him, then released him on 29 March. However, police immediately re-arrested him on new charges of “conversion activities” (Section 158, Penal Code), alleging proselytism by spreading false information and charging him with “outraging religious feelings” and “attempting to convert others”. Police then created a duplicate case transferring Acharya to the remote Dolpa District – far from his lawyer and family – violating his right to a fair trial. The Christian Society filed a writ of habeas corpus, but the appeals court upheld the unjust acts of the Kaski Police and the district court by cancelling the writ. Nepal’s National Human Right Commission failed to act. Pastor Acharya was released again on bail on 30 June to await trial at the time of this report.
Christians, Muslims, Jains, Buddhists, Bahá’ís and other religious minority groups cannot register their places of worship as religious organisations.
In the UK Parliament, 2020
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