Nepal’s first religious freedom case since the country’s new constitution was implemented in 2015 is due to come to trial later this week.
Facing charges will be eight Christian counsellors arrested for distributing a pamphlet about Jesus in a Christian school while helping children through the trauma of last year’s earthquake.
Anything perceived as evangelizing is outlawed in the new constitution.
The seven men and one woman arrested June 9 were charged with trying to convert children to Christianity by distributing the pamphlet during a trauma seminar.
The counsellors were working for Teach Nepal. Barnabas Shrestha, chairman of Teach Nepal, says they were “invited by a pastor to do the counselling in the school”. While it is a Christian school, not all pupils are Christians.
Shrestha denies the counsellors were trying to convert children. The police making the arrests “wanted our people to say yes, they have preached the Gospel …which is not true”.
The freedom of Nepal’s Christians is increasingly under threat.
Last week, according to a missionary in Nepal, the government announced to all leaders of Christian orphanages and boarding schools in Kathmandu that it would impose huge fines, close them down and confiscate possessions should they find just one Christian booklet in their institution.
The government also announced that praying with children or letting them attend a Bible club is prohibited.
Another Christian Nepali contact, who wants to remain anonymous, told World Watch Monitor that the Social Welfare Council, which approves foreign aid used to conduct programs, has stopped granting approval for Christian activities.
When Nepal decided to remain a secular, rather than become a Hindu, state it was a disappointment to Hindu nationalist groups.
In September 2015, hours after Nepal’s Constituent Assembly rejected calls to revert to a Hindu state, two churches were bombed. Pamphlets promoting Hindu nationalism were found at each of the churches and nationalist group, Hindu Morcha Nepal, issued a press statement calling for Christian leaders to leave the country and for converts to Christianity to return to Hinduism.
The eight counsellors remain on bail awaiting trial, expected to be held on July 23.