There is a briefing from the United Mission to Nepal concerning proposed changes to the Criminal Code and Civil Code in Nepal. If the changes are introduced the consequences for Christians in Nepal could be profound. Please read the attached briefing and consider whether you feel you can make a response as requested in it.
UMN BRIEFING PAPER
Draft Nepali “Act of Offence Against Religions”
10 June 2011
A Committee is at present preparing two documents: a Criminal Code and a Civil Code, to replace the old Civil Code. These have been formulated by a Committee
comprised of secretaries from various ministries under the leadership of one
of the senior legal person from Supreme Court. Draft documents were submitted to the Prime Minister on 20 May, and he has since then presented them to Cabinet. The documents will now go to another parliamentary committee and, once revised and approved by them, will be submitted to the Constituent Assembly to be passed into law.
These documents contain Articles (157 to 161) regarding the practice and manifestation of religions which appear to be in conflict with the provisions of the Interim Constitution and basic human rights.
While this is a law that could primarily affect minority religious communities in Nepal, including Christians and Muslims, it is also potentially a violation of fundamental freedoms of opinion, belief and expression.
The Interim Constitution of Nepal declares Nepal a secular state (Part 1 Article 4), gives every citizen freedom of opinion and expression (Part 3 Article 3a) and the right to “profess, practise and preserve his/her own religion as handed down to him/her in ancient times” (Part 3 Article 23). The UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1991) which Nepal has signed, includes Article 18 which safeguards a person’s right to manifest his/her religion. This has generally been interpreted as the right to evangelistic and missionary activities.
Please note: What follows is a preliminary analysis of a draft piece of legislation which has not yet been put before the Constituent Assembly.
The Act of Offence Against Religions
The Civil Code contains 5 clauses regarding religious behaviour. Several of these clauses could provide substantial protection to religious faith and observance, particularly for minority faiths like Christianity. For example, Clause 157 protects religious places, including cemeteries; Clause 158 precludes vilifying another religion; Clause 159 prevents anyone from obstructing a religious ritual.
There are, however, grave concerns about some parts of these laws, and the potential impact on Christians, churches and Christian organisations, as well as other minority religious groups.
“Undermining any religious feeling”
Speaking or writing about one’s religion is a basic right. Could this clause be used to stifle free expression of religion, on the basis that learning about another religion could cause a person to question their own? Further, could this mean that discriminatory practices which are embedded in religious belief – like the caste system, for example, or inequitable treatment of women and girls – would be protected from scrutiny or criticism?
“Putting an obstacle in the way of religious rituals which have been in existence since time immemorial”
Could the last phrase be used to argue that only the traditional religions of Nepal (Hinduism and Buddhism) are afforded this protection, or that the exercise of “newer” religions in Nepal could undermine the traditional ones?
"Converting a person or abetting him to change his religion"
"by offering inducements or without inducement," and preaching "a different religion or faith with any other intent".
This clause is of serious concern. This law seems to go further than Nepal’s Interim Constitution of 2007, by making it an illegal to act or behave in any way which might lead someone to change their religion, even without offering inducements. This could include a number of actions that most Christians would see as being integral to the exercise of their faith, as it might result in another person wishing to become a Christian.
As far as we can tell, the legislation has been drafted in Committee, without consultation or communication with faith groups. Certainly, the leaders of the key Nepali Christian umbrella organisations have not been informed. At present, Christian leaders are seeking further information and legal advice, and working on ways in which they can feed into the process from now on. A concerted response has not yet been devised.
What can you do?
for a united Nepali Christian voice on the proposed legislation;
for opportunities for Christians to meet with and influence legislators;
for the passage of fair legislation that guarantees full religious freedoms for all Nepalis.
Contact your Foreign Minister and express your concern about the legislation and ask that s/he calls on the Government of Nepal to ensure that any legislation guarantees full religious freedoms for all Nepalis.
Contact the Nepalese Embassy or Consulate in your country, and ask them to share your concern about this legislation with the Government of Nepal.