International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

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 Nepal as a "Hindu Kingdom," although it does not establish Hinduism as the state religion.

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 members of minority religions occasionally report police harassment. Isolated attacks, mainly by members of the local community on the country's small Christian population, occurred during the period.

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 to admit in public their affiliations.

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 23.2 million. Hindus constitute 85 to 90 percent of the population; Buddhists, 5 to 10 percent; Muslims, 2 to 5 percent; and Christians, approximately 1.7 percent. Christian denominations are few but growing. Estimates put the number of Christians at about 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 Nepal 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.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The law prohibits converting others and proselytizing, activities that are punishable with fines or imprisonment. Some Christian groups are concerned that the ban on proselytizing limits the expression of non-Hindu religious belief.

A conviction for converting others or proselytizing can result in fines or imprisonment or, in the case of foreigners, expulsion from the country. Four cases related to converting others and/or proselytizing were filed during the period covered by this report. The courts dismissed two cases; one case resulted in a guilty verdict and a 3-month sentence for the four defendants, who have all since been released; and the fourth case is pending, with a court date set for October 2, 2001. However arrests or detentions for proselytizing are rare, and there have been few incidents of punishment or investigation in connection with conversion or proselytization during the last few years. In October 2000, four Christians, including one Norwegian national, were arrested on charges of attempting to convert others in Rajbiraj, Satpari district in eastern Nepal after a local teacher claimed that the four had offered him money if he converted. On November 9, two of the accused were released on bail after paying a fine. The other two, including the Norwegian, remained in custody awaiting trial. The district court eventually found all four guilty of proselytization and sentenced each to 3 months in prison. All four were released from jail on February 15, 2001. The Norwegian has since returned to his native country. Members of minority religions occasionally complain of police harassment.

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, an umbrella Protestant group. A court date to hear the case has been set for October 2, 2001. In April 2001, a case against the United Mission of Nepal (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.

In 1999 Christian groups in Kathmandu were prevented from observing Good Friday in a public park when they failed to obtain the proper permit. However, Easter services in 1999, which were conducted without the proper permit, took place without incident. Public observances of Easter in a Kathmandu park and a Passover Seder in a major hotel in Kathmandu in 2000 and 2001 were uneventful.

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. The Press and Publications Act prohibits the publication of materials that create animosity among persons of different castes or religions.

There are currently no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Local authorities in Boudanath, Kathmandu, halted the performance of a traditional dance scheduled to be performed on February 26, 2001, 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; however, no injuries were reported. After the June 1, 2001, death of members of the royal family, Tibetan community leaders were asked by local officials to refrain from public celebration of festivals during the period of official mourning.

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 Government's 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. The country's Muslim minority is not well integrated with the larger Hindu majority and does not have the same level of religious identity that Hindu and Buddhist communities share.

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. Shiv Sena Nepal and Nepal Shivsena both strongly criticized the Taliban destruction of Buddhist artifacts in Afghanistan in March, as did many Nepali political and religious leaders. However, Nepal Shivsena threatened to break or destroy all "Islamic identities" in Nepal in retaliation for Taliban actions. 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.

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.

The caste system, although it is prohibited by the Constitution, strongly influences society. However, traditional religious practices at Hindu temples are an exception to this prohibition. The Government allows caste discrimination at Hindu temples where, for example, members of the lowest caste are not permitted (see Section II). Otherwise, the Government makes an effort to protect the rights of the disadvantaged castes.

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 have also alleged persecution 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 regular contact with Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Baha'i, and other religious groups. The Embassy monitors closely religious freedoms and raises these topics with the Government when appropriate.

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