Nepali PM for changes to anti-conversion bill

» 08/26/2011 16:55

by Kalpit Parajuli
For outgoing Prime Minister Khanal, the new civil code violates the separation between state and religion. In his view, it is possible to make changes that would defend minorities whilst not upsetting Hindus.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Outgoing Nepali Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal has criticised the anti-conversion bill. He agrees with the changes proposed by Christians and other religious minorities. Speaking at a conference on the country’s future, organised yesterday by the Office of the Attorney General of Nepal, he said, “Nepal has promised to institutionalize the changes declared after the abolishment of monarchy in the country. Secularism is one among them. We should address the rights of minority religious people by amending in the proposed civil and criminal codes of Nepal.”

Presented on 23 June, the changes to the civil and criminal codes were supposed to be adopted before the end of August. However, Prime Minster Khanal’s resignation has put everything off.

Chapter 9 of the bill changing the civil and criminal codes would define all forms of religious communication, including talking about one’s faith, as proselytising. Punishment would include a fine of up to US$ 700 and five years in prison. Any foreigner convicted on such grounds would be liable of immediate expulsion.

Rightwing parties want tight controls over conversion to avoid clashes with Hindus. Chief Supreme Court Justice Khil Raj Regmi is among the supporters of this approach.

At the conference, he said that any public celebration by religious minorities constitutes a form of proselytising. In his view, all attempts, direct or indirect, at proselytising should be punished to avoid sectarian clashes.

Even though his position is backed by the more rightwing parties, it is not shared by other Supreme Court justices, who could block the draft bill if it is approved on grounds of unconstitutionality.

Meanwhile, for Khanal, the government can still use its power to change the bill to protect minority rights whilst minimising confrontation with Hindus.