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Church in Nepal fights anti-conversion law


KATHMANDU (AsiaNews): The Catholic Church has condemned a proposed new penal code being put forward by the government in Nepal that would prohibit religious conversions.
Father Shilas Bogati and Father Pius Perumana, both from Kathmandu, have published a public report highlighting what they call inconsistencies in sections 160.1 and 160.2. They say the sections are in conflict with Article 23 of the interim constitution, which guarantees every citizen the right to profess any creed.
Section 160.1 of the new code provides that “no person has the right to convert or incite a citizen to conversion to religions other than their own.” Section 160.2 prescribes punishment for behaviour that may offend the beliefs or traditions of the Hindu caste or religious community.
Penalties range from a fine of $5,640 to a maximum of five years in prison. “Before proposing the new code,” the priests say, “the government did not consult religious minorities. The Catholic Church learned the news through the Nepali media.”
To lobby the authorities and raise public awareness, the Church in Nepal has circulated sections of the penal code that it believes are contrary to religious freedom on the Internet.
The two priests maintain that the offending sections are taken from a civil code dating back to the period of the monarchy, when Nepal was a Hindu state and there was no kind of religious freedom.
“After the signing of the interim constitution in 2007, Nepal has been a secular and multi-religious state in which equal treatment for all faiths is expected. Article 23 provides that every person has the right to profess, practice and defend their religious beliefs. In addition, Nepal has acceded to international conventions on civil and political rights, which in Articles 18.1 and 18.2 provide for the religious freedom for every citizen,” the priests say.
The proposals were put forward on June 23. The new law was slated to be approved by the end of August, but the resignation of the prime minister, Dipak Khanal, has blocked the process, postponing it to a later date.
In recent weeks, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Baha’is delivered a document to the members of government in which they are asking for a review of the anti-conversion bill.

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