Among those arrested on June 9, 2016 were Prakash Pradhan, the principal of Mount Valley boarding school, and Bimal Shahi, principal of Modern Nepal School. The other five arrested Christians were staff from Teach Nepal, a Christian organization.
“The police arrested seven Christians on June 9,” a relative of one of those under arrest told ICC. “The police treated them as if they were criminals, placing everyone in handcuffs. The officer who is in charge of this arrest refuses to listen to anyone and is making the Christians’ lives hell.”
“The police promised to release the prisoners if they sign a document that admits that distributing the handbooks is a violation of the law and then promise to never engage in similar activities,” another local source told ICC. “The Christians refused to sign the document. The police have extended the detention by five days until a formal charge can be filed against them.”
Nepalese authorities are pressing charges against the Christians, stating that they have violated Article 26 (3) of the 2015 Nepalese Constitution. This article prohibits any attempt to proselytize others, stating, “No person shall, in the exercise of the right conferred by this Article, do, or cause to be done, any act which may be contrary to public health, decency and morality or breach public peace, or convert another person from one religion to another or any act or conduct that may jeopardize other’s religion.”
This is the first time that the article has been used to arrest anyone for proselytizing since Nepal adopted the 2015 Constitution.
In 2015, the Nepalese government drafted and accepted its new constitution along with the controversial Article 26. At the time, local Christians expressed their concern that the amendment could be used against them. One specific concern that Christians had about the amendment was that it did not contain any specification as to what constitutes an “act to convert another person.”
“The Christian community in Nepal believes that this is a very serious case,” a Christian pastor from Nepal told ICC. “Although we are working hard to release the prisoners, the people here are nervous after hearing about this case. We feel that we have to be careful about everything that we do.”
ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark, said, “These arrests are truly concerning for Christians and the future of religious freedom in Nepal. Last year, many were concerned when Nepal adopted its new constitution that included the controversial Article 26. Christians feared that this article would be a weapon used to stop the growth of the Christian community. Today, Nepalese Christians have seen their fears realized with seven Christians being put through ‘hell’ simply for sharing their faith. No one should fear arrest and imprisonment for sharing their faith. ICC calls for the immediate release of these seven Christians and for Nepal to review and amend Article 26 of their constitution as it clearly violates the religious liberty of all citizens of Nepal.”