10/28/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that two elderly nuns in Nepal were arrested in September for allegedly violating the country’s controversial anti-conversion law. Despite more than a month passing since their arrest, the nuns remain in detention awaiting trial.
On September 14, Sister Gemma Lucia Kim and Sister Martha Park were arrested and charged with proselytizing and conversion activities. The nuns run a facility called the Happy Home for poor slum children in Pokhara, located 200 kilometers from Kathmandu. This facility provides housing, food, education, medical services, and professional trainings to approximately 120 children.
The nuns were kept in police custody until September 27 when they were moved to a district prison. Local church leaders have filed for the nuns to be released on bail, but hearings on this application have been delayed due to Hindu holidays.
Bishop Paul Simick, Apostolic Vicar of Nepal, believes that the allegations against the nuns are baseless and unjust.
“The two have been dedicating themselves totally to the poor for so many years,” Bishop Simick said in a statement to Aid to the Church in Need. “This act reveals not only bigotry on the part of those who accused the Sisters, but also ignorance of the needs of the poor.”
“The Catholic community sees this event as an attack on minority communities with an intent to criminalize missionary activities,” Bishop Simick continued. “The Sisters’ initiatives, such as social services, education and medical care are seen as a bait for conversion.”
Proselytization is considered a criminal offense in Nepal. The process of criminalizing religious conversion began in 2015 when Nepal adopted a new constitution. Under Article 26 (3) of the new constitution, “No person shall behave, act or make others act to disturb public law and order situation or convert a person of one religion to another or disturb the religion of other people…such an act shall be punished by law.”
In August 2018, the Nepalese government enacted this controversial portion of the new constitution when it was added to the country’s criminal codes. Under these new laws, an individual found guilty of even encouraging religious conversions can be fined up to 50,000 Rupees and placed in prison for up to five years.
William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, said, “We here at International Christian Concern are deeply concerned by the arrests of Sister Kim and Sister Park. These Sisters have been arrested simply because of their religious identity and their heart for the poor in Nepal. The arrests also bring into question the future of religious freedom in Nepal. Since the new constitution was adopted in 2015, Nepalese Christians have been concerned that Article 26 and its enacting laws would be used to target their community. Today, Nepalese Christians again have seen their fears realized. Nepal’s sweeping anti-conversion law must be repealed if religious freedom is truly a right to be enjoyed by the country’s citizens.”