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Nepal


International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and permits the practice of all religions. However, the Constitution describes the country as a "Hindu Kingdom," although it does not establish Hinduism as the state religion. The Government generally has not interfered with the practice of other religions; however, there are some restrictions.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. Converting or attempting to convert others is prohibited, and three individuals were arrested for suspected proselytization during the reporting period. Members of minority religions occasionally report police harassment. Authorities restricted public celebrations by the Tibetan community on the Dalai Lama's birthday. There were reports of isolated attacks on religious buildings, mainly by Maoist insurgents, during the period covered by this report.

Adherents of the country's many religions generally coexist peacefully and respect all places of worship. Those who convert to other religions may face isolated incidents of violence and sometimes are ostracized socially but generally do not fear admitting their affiliations in public.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. The U.S. Embassy maintains regular contact with Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Baha'i, and other religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 54,363 square miles, and its population is approximately 23.15 million. Hindus constitute approximately 81 percent of the population; Buddhists, 11 percent; Muslims, 4.2 percent; and practitioners of Kirant (an indigenous animist religion) and others, 3.6 percent, of which 0.45 percent are Christian. Christian denominations are few but growing. Estimates put the number of Christians at approximately 400,000, and press reports indicate that 170 Christian churches operate in Kathmandu alone.


Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and permits the practice of all religions; however, although the Government generally has not interfered with the practice of other religions, there are some restrictions. The Constitution describes the country as a "Hindu Kingdom," although it does not establish Hinduism as the state religion.

For decades dozens of Christian missionary hospitals, welfare organizations, and schools have operated in the country. These organizations have not proselytized and have operated freely. Missionary schools are among the most respected institutions of secondary education in the country; many of the country's governing and business elite graduated from Jesuit high schools. Many foreign Christian organizations have direct ties to Nepali churches and sponsor Nepali pastors for religious training abroad.

Some religious holidays, most of them Hindu, are recognized as national holidays. During the period covered by this report, the religious holidays recognized as national holidays were Mahashivaratri, Fagun Purnima, Krishna Asthami, Dasain, and Tihar.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The law prohibits converting others and proselytizing, activities that are punishable with fines or imprisonment or, in the case of foreigners, expulsion from the country.

On February 14 three Nepali men were arrested in Pyuthan District and charged with proselytization. A case was filed against them in Pyuthan District Court on February 28 and they remain in prison pending trial. Members of minority religions occasionally complain of police harassment. Some Christian groups are concerned that the ban on proselytizing limits the expression of non-Hindu religious belief.

The Government investigates reports of proselytizing. Nongovernmental groups or individuals are free to file charges of proselytizing against individuals or organizations. Such a case was filed with the Supreme Court in December 1999 by a private attorney against the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) and the United Missions to Nepal (UMN), an umbrella Protestant group. The case was dismissed by the Court on August 16, 2002. In April 2001, a case against the UMN was filed with the Supreme Court by a member of the Pashupati Sena Nepal, a Hindu fundamentalist group. The Supreme Court dismissed the case the day after it was filed.

Unlike previous years, no disruptions of Christian or Jewish services were reported during the period covered by this report.

Tibetan Buddhists have faced various restrictions on their celebrations. After the June 1, 2001, deaths of members of the royal family, Tibetan community leaders were asked by local officials to refrain from public celebrations of festivals during the period of official mourning. During the second half of 2001, Tibetan community festivals had to be observed on private property, with the exception of a public celebration on September 2, 2001, that was held at Kathmandu's Boudhanath Stupa. However, plans to mark December 10, 2001, as the anniversary of the Dalai Lama's Nobel Prize, to be held at the Boudhanath Stupa, were canceled at the request of the authorities. On April 28, 2002, police prevented a Tibetan cultural program planned at a public venue from taking place. The program was to have honored the 13th birthday of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama to be the 11th Panchen Lama.

Local authorities in Kathmandu halted the performance of a traditional dance scheduled to be performed on February 26, 2001, at the Boudanath Stupa during the 6-day celebration of the Tibetan New Year. Other activities that same day and the other 5 days of the festival continued as usual. In December 2000, police stopped a procession of Tibetan school children, monks, and others on their way to Swayambunath Temple in Kathmandu; no injuries were reported. In July 2002, Government pressure forced organizers to cancel three separate public events planned to celebrate the Dalai Lama's birthday. On July 25, 2002, police closed down a press conference held by a local Buddhist community group to protest statements by followers of the Dorje Shugden deity that criticized the Dalai Lama. In September 2002, the Tibetan Democracy Day religious gathering was interrupted by police. In March 2003, Tibetans celebrating the New Year were forbidden by police from displaying pictures of the Dalai Lama. In previous years, a portrait of the Dalai Lama had been carried around the stupa as part of the religious ceremonies.

On January 31, 2002, the Cabinet decided that Muslim religious schools, or madrassas, must register with local District Administration Offices (part of the Home Ministry) and supply information about their funding sources in order to continue operation. Some Muslim leaders criticized the move as discriminatory. However, the registration requirement has not been enforced.

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste, except for traditional religious practices at Hindu temples, where, for example, members of the lowest caste are not permitted (see Section III). The Press and Publications Act prohibits the publication of materials that create animosity among persons of different castes or religions.

The best available estimate of the number of religious detainees is three. They have been charged with proselytization and a case has been filed against them in Pyuthan District Court. They remain in prison pending trial.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The adherents of the country's many religions generally coexist peacefully and respect all places of worship. Most Hindus respect the many Buddhist shrines located throughout the country; Buddhists accord Hindu shrines the same respect. Buddha's birthplace is an important pilgrimage site, and Buddha's birthday is a national holiday.

Some Christian groups report that Hindu extremism has increased in recent years. Of particular concern are the Nepalese affiliates of the India-based Hindu political party Shiv Sena, locally known as Pashupati Sena, Shiv Sena Nepal, and Nepal Shivsena. During late 2001, Muslim leaders complained that Hindu fundamentalists increased their campaigns of anti-Islamic pamphleteering and graffiti. Government policy does not support Hindu extremism, although some political figures have made public statements critical of Christian missionary activities. Some citizens are wary of proselytizing and conversion by Christians and view the growth of Christianity with concern. There were reports of isolated attacks against religious schools by Maoist insurgents during the period covered by this report.

Those who choose to convert to other religions, in particular Hindu citizens who convert to Islam or Christianity, sometimes are ostracized socially. Some reportedly have been forced to leave their villages. While this prejudice is not systematic, it can be vehement and occasionally violent. Hindus who convert to another religion may face isolated incidents of hostility or discrimination from Hindu extremist groups. Nevertheless, converts generally are not afraid to admit in public their new religious affiliations.

Although such discrimination is prohibited by the Constitution, the caste system strongly influences society. Societal discrimination against members of such castes remains widespread and persistent, despite the government's efforts to protect the rights of disadvantaged castes. Hindu religious tradition long has prohibited members of the lowest caste from entering certain temples. In a speech on August 16, 2001, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba stressed that caste-based discrimination is illegal. Since then, temple access for members of the lowest castes has improved in many locations. Draft legislation aimed at improving conditions for members of the lowest castes still is pending.

In July 2000, some members of a predominantly Buddhist community in Gumda, Gorkha district, vandalized the homes of six Christian converts. According to press reports, the six families were reintegrated into the community after agreeing not to kill animals or perform other activities contrary to the tenets of Buddhism during religious festivals. Two representatives of different Christian organizations also have alleged harassment of Christians and destruction of at least two churches by Maoist sympathizers.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. The U.S. Embassy maintains contact with Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Baha'i, and other religious groups. The Embassy monitors closely religious freedom and raises the issue with the Government when appropriate.



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