Nepal "Releases" Christian Couple, But Hindu Militants Plan Protests, Human Rights Group Says

Friday, May 13, 2005

Friday, May 13, 2005
By BosNewsLife News Center

NEW DELHI/KATHMANDU (BosNewsLife)-- There was concern Thursday, May 12, about demonstrations by Hindu militants in Nepal after reports that authorities released a Christian Indian couple detained for allegedly evangelizing among Hindu orphans.

In a statement to BosNewsLife News Center, human rights group the Voice Of the Martyrs (VOM) Canada said it had learned that Babu and Sabitri Varghese, who were arrested last month in southern Nepal, "had been released and that all charges had been dropped."

"On May 9, [mission organization] EquipNepal received a phone call from Babu, reporting that they had been released and all charges had been dropped due to lack of evidence. Though very tired and suffering from a cold, Babu and Sabitri are well and praising God for their release," VOM Canada said.

However "Babu expressed concern for a strike planned by militant Hindus in Birganj City on May 12 to protest their release," VOM Canada added.


Babu Varghese, an Indian citizen, and his wife Savitri were running a school for orphans in Birgunj city in southern Nepal, the commercial capital of the world's only Hindu kingdom, said Indo-Asian News Service (IANS).

Most of the 80 students of the 'Grace English Boarding School' were allegedly "coerced into conversion" by the two believers, the report quoted law enforcement officials as saying.

The constitution of Nepal, the world's only Hindu kingdom, provides religious freedom for the people of non-Hindu faiths but "forcible conversion" is a penal offense punishable with a three-year jail term, BosNewsLife learned.


In addition Christian religious groups do not have a right to register as a church or a society, despite the fact that Nepal signed United Nations' human rights treaties, conventions and protocols, human rights watchers say.

"The arrest of the Indian couple is to be seen in the light of the deteriorating situation in Nepal," Amelia Andrews, Associate Executive Secretary of Communication of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), told the BosNewsLife New Delhi Bureau earlier. "The once vibrant media of Nepal is under strict censorship. The civil liberties of the people have been suspended. There have been gross violations of human rights," Andrews added.

It was not immediately clear what sparked the reported release of the couple, but Nepal's King Gyanendra has been under international pressure to allow more freedom. He recently lifted a state of emergency imposed when he took over power, backed by the military, on February 1.