Nepal Seeks to Restrict Religious Freedom

Following devastating earthquakes in April and May which killed thousands of people many Christian aid organizations and churches around the world have raced to send aid to feed and shelter Nepali villagers and to rebuild their crumbled homes.  Soon after Christian charities responded with desperately needed aid to survivors nationwide, the Nepali constitutional drafting committee has responded by removing religious freedom from the draft Nepali constitution.

The drafting of a new constitution has been ongoing for the last seven years in Nepal, following the collapse of the 240 year old Hindu monarchy.  Recently, a disturbance occurred in the Constituent Assembly by the Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal (RPP Nepal) demanding that Article 31 of the Constitution, which to an extent protects religious freedom, be amended. As a result, the three major political parties (Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal/Unified Marxist-Leninist, and Maoist) have agreed to completely remove the provision and any protection. The chair of RPP Nepal said that the party is fighting for the return of the Hindu Kingdom by abolishing the secular state.

Concerns had been raised about whether Article 31 would have provided full protection to each Nepali citizens to choose his or her religion, particularly its third clause.  Article 31 had stated that “Every person shall have the right to profess, practice and protect his or her own religion according to conviction and the freedom to separate oneself from any religion” and “Every religious denomination shall have the right to maintain its independent existence, and, for this purpose, to operate and protect its religious sites and religious trusts, in accordance with law.”  However, the third clause contained this anti-conversion language, “In exercising the right entrusted by this article, any act which may be contrary to public health, public decency or morality or incitement to breach public peace or act to convert another person from one religion to another or any act or behavior to undermine or jeopardize the religion of each other is not allowed and such act shall be punishable by law.”  This broad anti-conversion language reflects similar laws in affect in several states within the neighboring country of India and which laws have at times been used to justify the arrest of pastors and violent targeting of prayer meetings and Bible studies. nepali-christians

Nepalese citizens fear that simply discussing one’s religion could be seen as an act of conversion and therefore punishable. This anti-conversion clause of Article 31 was viewed as threatening by Nepalese Christians, which comprises about 1.4% of the population.  Reports have indicated that those who are found guilty of breaking the anti-conversion clause could serve a sentence of up to five years in prison or fined up to 50,000 Nepalese rupees.  Thus, the clause would also discourage conversion to be seen as a positive individual choice, and would jeopardize the freedom and livelihood the Nepali people who chose to leave the Hindu faith of their forefathers.

In 1990, the prior monarchy had removed from the Nepali constitution in effect at that time similar constitutional and legal threats to the freedom of religious choice, which imposed prison terms of seven years and forced reconversions.  Dozens of Nepali Christians had been imprisoned prior to the removal of the anti-conversion laws related to the 1990 constitution.

As the country recovers from the massively destructive earthquakes it endured in April and May of this year, it is urgent that the Nepalese government finalize a constitution that not only provides a stable structure of government, but ensures peace and religious freedom throughout the country. Restoring the first two clauses of Article 31 would accomplish that.

Nepali Christians are calling for the international community to urge Nepal to abide by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which the country has ratified. Article 18 of the Covenant states:

“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

During the past 25 years, the Nepali church has enjoyed freedom and equality within the society and have demonstrated their constructive and productive participation in all aspects of society building, despite years of strife caused by the Maoist insurgency.  Nepal should not retrogress to the pre-1990 imposition of the religion of one’s forefathers upon its citizens and again punish anyone seeking to chose his or her own faith.  Instead, at the urging of Nepali Christians the new constitution should abide by the country’s international obligations and protect each person’s fundamental right to choose his or her own religious beliefs.

Update on Asia Bibi

On July 22nd, Asia Bibi appeared before a three judge panel of the Pakistan Supreme Court who decided to temporarily suspend her death sentence for blasphemy. Based on dubious evidence and witnesses, a sessions court had found Bibi guilty of violating Pakistan Penal Code 295(c) for blasphemy and conferred the first death sentence on a woman for this crime.

Bibi’s lawyer, Mr. Saif Ul Malook, presented arguments as to why the Supreme Court should hear her appeal. The Honorable Bench agreed with his arguments and concluded that the Lahore High Court had dismissed her appeal on a technicality and that due to the conviction and sentence her appeal should be examined for administration of justice.

Asia Bibi was charged with blasphemy for stating, “My Christ died for me, what did Muhammad do for you?” In 2009 she was working as a farm laborer and had engaged in a conversation with two of her Muslim co-workers. The conversation escalated and that is when Bibi questioned their prophet. She was then accused of blasphemy. aasia-bibi-1-273x157 (1)

Five days after the argument, Bibi was beaten up and humiliated by her villagers and Muslims from surrounding villages. The police arrested her and she was charged under the Pakistan Penal Code 295(c).

The Pakistani government continues to justify–even at the United Nations–its Blasphemy law as a criminal offense punishable by death, despite the overwhelming international consensus opposed to blasphemy laws. This past June in the United States House of Representatives, Republican Rep. Joe Pitts and Democratic Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee introduced H .Res. 290 which calls for the global repeal of blasphemy laws. The resolution “recognizes that blasphemy laws inappropriately position governments as arbiters of truth or religious rightness as they empower officials to enforce particular religious views against individuals, minorities” and “supports efforts at the United Nations to combat intolerance, discrimination, or violence against persons based on religion or belief without restricting expression”.

Pakistan has had a long history of Christians being accused of blasphemy. Last November, a Christian couple was falsely accused of burning verses from the Quran. Consequently, the couple was brutally attacked by a Muslim mob and burned alive.

Jubilee administers the Aid to Victims’ Families Fund to assist the families of Pakistanis who have been murdered, incapacitated or driven into hiding because of unjust accusations of blasphemy. We cooperate in this effort with our partners in Lahore, Pakistan, the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS). Please prayerfully consider donating to help protect Christians in Pakistan.

Donate here.

Jubilee Visit to UNHCR Bangkok

April 8, 2015

Last month, Jubilee Campaign’s Ann Buwalda and other human rights activists met with the UNHCR Bangkok to raise the plight of the Pakistani Christian asylum seekers who have been arrested and detained by Thai authorities since early March. Their detention conditions are deplorable, and continuous efforts are being made to try to persuade the Thai authorities to stop the arrests.

 

 

Ann also visited the Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok to meet with detained asylum seekers, and Peter Bronsveld and Prof. Rainer, also in this picture, visited the criminal court where a number of detained asylum seekers were attempting to get bond.

 

 

Terrorists Say Captive Chibok Girls “Gone” As Truce Turns Ruse

A man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, the Boko Haram leader, released a chilling video ironically on Halloween night declaring that the 219 school girls held in captivity had all “converted” to Islam and were now “married” to Boko Haram militants.

The speaker also declared the ceasefire was a ruse, and that negotiations never took place. Furthermore, he said that the government had been meeting with a false representative of Boko Haram.

As Boko Haram insurgents make considerable advances in northeastern Nigeria capturing about 30 towns, there has been a geometric spike in IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) as people flee the region en masse. In late October, Jubilee Campaign’s local partners in Nigeria distributed emergency food to refugees in the village of Kogbaru. Over the last few months, thousands of Nigerians have fled to Kogbaru which was tiny resettlement camp of just 62 refugees when our team first visited in April, 2014.

The situation is dire. Six months later, we still have not heard back from the UN about allowing us to bring food to their camps in Cameroon where refugees are starving. Some of the refugees in this ad hoc resettlement camp fled from dysfunctional UN camps.

 

(Refugees receive Mana donations, a UN-approved nutritional formula for malnourished children.)

Mana Nutrition, a Georgia USA company, donated the food which Jubilee shipped to Nigeria. More help is needed urgently especially for those who cannot reach the UN camps in Cameroon or the Kogbaru camp in central Nigeria.

(Mass exodus of people fleeing Boko Haram)

In one community, the local chief emir read out an announcement that Boko sent to warn the villagers to convert or leave town before this week as they are next in line to be attacked. Our contacts in that community are now hiding in the bushes.