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KATHMANDU, NEPAL (Worthy News)-- Nepal's government has defended a proposed law that Christians say effectively bans evangelism and could lead to a crackdown on devoted believers.
Under the new legislation, anyone who preaches or tries to persuade others to change religion could receive up to five years imprisonment and receive a fine of 50,000 Nepalese Rupees (some $700).
In comments monitored by Worthy News Tuesday, June 14, Nepali Justice Minister Prabhu Sah denied the law targets devoted Christians. "The law is not against Christians who do great work in the service of the country, but is against the imposition of Christianity," he said.
However the head of Protestant group Nepal Christian Society, Isu Jang Karki, has reportedly condemned the proposal, saying "the charges about forced conversions are false."
Protestant Christians have long argued that the Bible makes clear that faith in Jesus Christ is a free, personal choice.
The proposed law comes after Nepal abolished Hinduism as a state religion. The Himalayan nation of some 30 million people became a secular state in 2007 after centuries of Hindu absolutist monarchy.
Under a transitional constitution, backed by the United Nations, "proselytizing" is already banned, but all Nepali citizens "are free to express their faith", including through missionary and charity work.
The issue of "forced conversion" isn't confined to Nepal.
Several states in neighboring India have banned "forced" conversion after hard-line Hindu parties accused Christian missionaries of coercing people to change religions.
Analysts say recent political and economic instability caused by a power struggle among secular parties has strengthened Hindu movements in Nepal, which seek the restoration of the monarchy and want to halt conversions.
Despite the pressure, church officials and missionaries have said that thousands of Hindus have converted to Christianity since the fall of the monarchy in 2008.