In a major win for religious freedom, eight Christians arrested for proselytizing after giving out a pamphlet about Jesus in a Christian school have been acquitted by a court in Nepal.
According to World Watch Monitor, the Christians, seven men and one woman, all counselors, were arrested in June for distributing a pamphlet about Jesus in a Christian school while helping children through the trauma of last year's earthquake. Under Nepal's new constitution, anything perceived as evangelizing is illegal.
The eight Christians were reportedly invited by a pastor to do the counseling in the school. While the school is affiliated with Christianity, not all students adhere to the religion.
Barnabas Shrestha, chairman of Teach Nepal, said authorities were clearly targeting the Christians, as none of the counselors were trying to convert the children: "The police making the arrests wanted our people to say yes, they have preached the Gospel ...which is not true," he said.
While a court in Nepal in December dropped the case against the counselors, WWM notes that the freedom of Nepal's Christians is increasingly under threat. According to persecution watchdog Open Doors USA, the country shows "increasing signs of becoming a more Hindu nationalistic nation" opposed to the growth and influence of Christianity.
Hinduism reigns as the primary religion - out of Nepal's population of 28 million, Christians make up less than 1.5 percent. In 2007, the former Hindu kingdom adopted a new constitution that declared the country a secular state, angering Hindu nationalist groups.
Last September, mere hours after Nepal's Constituent Assembly rejected calls to revert to a Hindu state, two churches were bombed, WWM reports. Pamphlets promoting Hindu nationalism were found at each of the churches and nationalist group, Hindu Morcha Nepal, issued a press statement calling for Christian leaders to leave the country and for converts to Christianity to return to Hinduism.
Last week, according to a missionary in Nepal, the government announced to all leaders of Christian orphanages and boarding schools in Kathmandu that it would impose huge fines, close them down and confiscate possessions should they find Christian booklets in their institution. In addition, praying with children or letting them attend a Bible club is prohibited under the country's new laws.
Despite such restrictions, Nepal has one of the fastest-growing Christian populations in the world, tripling to more than 300,000 in the past 10 years, according to the World Christian Database, which tracks global trends in Christianity.