Christians in Nepal Suffer Attacks, Arrests

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Continuing Political Tension Restricts Worship and Travel
by Sarah Page

DUBLIN (Compass) -- Christians belonging to a small house church in northern Nepal were attacked by Buddhist and Hindu villagers on July 26, resulting in hospitalization for at least one church member. The mob attacked and destroyed houses and cornfields belonging to Christian villagers.

Buddhist authorities in the village had repeatedly asked the Christians to give up their faith. When the Christians refused, the Buddhists joined forces with Hindu villagers in retaliation. The church, which meets in believers’ homes, had been growing rapidly, sources said.

In another incident in mid June, a Nepali evangelist who prefers not to be named witnessed an attack on a newly built church in Jhapa district, Beldangi.

“I went for the inauguration of the church,” he told Compass. “There were about 100 believers there. But when the Hindus saw that the church had been built, they came with almost 1,000 people to break down the church. The police also came and took everything away and arrested the three church leaders. They are still in police custody and their families are threatened by mental tortures and threats from the Hindu people.

“We invested a lot of money in that building, and now we have empty hands. But at the same time, we believe that God has his own plans and purposes.”

The church in Nepal has seen huge growth in recent years. Operation World reports a doubling in numbers to 400,000 during the 1990s. However, the same evangelist said Christians in the world’s only Hindu kingdom still experience persecution. “Hindu extremists have declared they will shed blood to protect Hinduism in Nepal.

“Hindu extremists are getting very much involved in destroying churches and attacking Christians,” he continued. “Earlier this year, three Christians were arrested because they were carrying Bibles. After several months of appeals to the government, they were released but had to pay a huge fine. These things are happening because the Hindus have the backing of the government.”

The three Christians he referred to were arrested in February 2003. The men were on their way to visit a Christian family when police officers stopped them and searched their bags. When the Bibles were discovered, the officers arrested the group and charged them with preaching the gospel and trying to convert villagers.

While Nepal’s Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, those convicted of proselytism face a sentence of up to three years.

The three men admitted they were Christians but denied trying to convert others in the village. Despite their claims of innocence, they were convicted at a hearing in the lower court. However, with repeated appeals to a higher court, the sentence was finally overturned on June 20, and the judge ordered all three released without bail.

Political instability in Nepal has contributed to the restriction of Christian activity. Nepal was plunged into chaos in June 2001, when Crown Prince Dipendra murdered nine members of the royal family before commiting suicide.

The current king has since struggled with factions in the government and Maoist insurgents. In an effort to clamp down on rebel activity, King Gyanendra has placed a ban on freedom of assembly and movement throughout Nepal, causing problems for house churches and traveling evangelists.

A foreign Christian who visited Nepal in February 2003 learned that the Maoists are now taking children to serve as soldiers in the rebel army. “The Maoist soldiers have sent letters to various schools, asking the school authorities to give them children that they can train as fighters. After the letter, they just come and take the children. Because of this, many schools have closed. One pastor and his wife sent their two boys, ages six and eight, to a boarding school in India to keep them safe.”

The Christian visitor also met with a Nepali pastor who shared the need for good relationships with Hindu neighbors. His church of approximately 30 members meets once a week for worship and every morning for a one-hour Bible study before going to work.

“We need to be on good terms with our neighbors,” the pastor explained. “If they don’t like what we’re doing, they can report us. We can be arrested or fined for having a Christian gathering."