Eleven evangelical Christians arrested in eastern Nepal in September 1994 were sentenced on August 21 to two years in prison for proselytizing Hindus. The 11 months that the Christians had already spent in prison will be deducted from their sentences. Church workers in Nepal are expected to appeal the case.
The Christians, ten ethnic Nepali refugees from Bhutan and one Nepali national, were arrested in the remote village of Jhapa in eastern Nepal's Ilam district. Authorities said they acted after receiving complaints from local Hindus about the Christians' evangelistic activities.
Church sources, however, told NNI that the actual reason for the arrests was because the Christians' church was too close to a Hindu temple. Five of the imprisoned Christians are women.
Under a 1992 law, Nepalis have the freedom to change their religion, but evangelism is still technically illegal, with a maximum three-year prison sentence for those convicted of attempted proselytism.
Nepali church leaders have been watching this case with deep concern, noting that, until now, police have not enforced the "anti-proselytizing clause" since Nepal adopted democratic reforms in 1990. The convictions could set a precedent for police in other parts of the country to take renewed action against Christians accused of proselytism.
At the time of the April 1990 civil unrest that led to democratic reforms, at least 144 Christians faced charges of unlawful preaching and proselytizing. Another 21 were in police custody, and 10 were in prison. However, following the prodemocracy demonstrations, King Birendra in June 1990 issued an amnesty to all religious offenders.
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