Rhema Subedi, Kathmandu . The president of Nepal, Bidhya Devi Bhandari, has signed the criminal offences bill on 17th of October, 2017.
This article is going to focus on section 9 of the bill that has been passed. In this article, religious conversion has been described as being a criminal offence, including encouraging others to change religion, converting another person or professing to them one’s own religion with similar intentions or without any intentions. If found guilty, five years imprisonment and a penalty of fifty thousand is to be suffered by the offender.
However, Nepal has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which clearly states in article 18, that “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject to only such limitations as…are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”
On the same topic, the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission has stated that “(our constitution) is, in strict sense, contrary to the concept of secularism.” In a bilateral meeting with international parliamentarians, Sashanka Koirala, General Secretary of the Nepali Congress, stated that these issues are concerning and need to be looked into deeply.
In the same context, Kiri Kankhwende, Senior Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said, “The lesson to be learnt from India is that anti conversion laws not only restrict the rights of an individual to adopt a religion of their choice, but also puts religious minorities at a risk of hostility and violence.”
Our law also now criminalises “hurting of others’ sentiment” which is unclear as to what sentiments can be hurt. This part of our law is similar to the blasphemy laws of Pakistan, where these laws are poorly defined and widely misused for targeting religious minorities or furthering of extremist agendas. (csw.org.uk)
So here’s the catch, is our constitution really secular in principle? Is our constitution’s definition of secularism really the same as what people understand secularism to mean? If not, isn’t this a serious issue and shouldn’t we all raise a voice against it?