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World News

State of Freedom of Religion and Belief in Nepal deemed 'dire' by new parliamentary report

by Kelly Valencia

A new report has highlighted the poor situation of religious communities in Nepal. 

Released by the UK's All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPG FoRB) on Tuesday, the report is calling on the UK government to engage with Nepalese counterparts to protect religious communities and stop the violence against the groups. 

New measures are being suggested, including further UK aid. 

From not being able to register their places of worship as religious organisations, to being arbitrarily arrested, religious minorities in Nepal face continued challenges because of their faith. 

Anti-conversion laws in the Hindu majority country mean Christians are targeted for sharing their faith, with sentences of up to five years in prison. 

At the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, many pastors were arrested. Authorities used Covid restrictions as means to impose tougher sentencing. 

Pastor Keshav Raj Acharya was used as an example within the report; He was arrested in March 2020 for saying "Jesus can cure Covid". He was fined $43 for Covid-19 related charges, but police "kept him in jail and subsequently charged him with religious conversion and offending religious sensibilities". 

Pastor Keshav was later condemned to two years imprisonment and a fine of 20,000 Nepali Rupees for sharing his faith. 

Concerns have also been raised over designated burial sites for religious minorities has also been raised as many families in rural areas have been forced to travel large distances to bury their loved ones.  

Jim Shannon MP, Chair of the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief said: "The fact that Nepal is not among the highest-ranking countries for violations of freedom of religion or belief means that it is often overlooked. 

"Increased concern regarding the suppression of religion or belief, with restrictions on this freedom reaching their highest levels in years, highlights the importance of directing more attention to this country before violations escalate further." 

The APPG report urges the Nepalese government to ensure that the rights of religious minorities are fully protected. They are recommending a commission be established that could work on locating "appropriate sites for use as cemeteries in harmony with environment and development planning as soon as possible" and to remove any clause in the Constitution that prohibits conversion per se.

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