By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
KATHMANDU, NEPAL (BosNewsLife)– Christian rights activists have urged Nepal’s new prime minister to help guarantee freedom of religion in a new constitution, just days after a bomb nearly destroyed a church.
Advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said Wednesday, August 31, “There is an air of expectancy in Nepal that the newly-elected Prime Minister, Baburam Bhattarai, will be able to oversee the completion of the constitution-drafting process.”
CSW said it has advised legislators not to include within either the constitution or penal code clauses such as “no person shall be entitled to convert another person from one religion to another,” which is believed to target devoted Christians.
Nepalese Christians have welcomed a decision to extend the deadline for a new constitution by three months, but they remain concerned that anti-Christian attacks will overshadow the drafting process.
In one of the latest threats against Christians, a bomb was discovered at the gate of Aradhana Church, an Assembly of God congregation in the far western village of Khairapur, Christians said. “I saw a strange object at the door of the church around 6 p.m.,” local time on Sunday, August 28, said Indra Bishwakarma, who leads the 15-year-old church.
“When I went closer to inspect it, I saw metal scraps jutting out. I realized it was a bomb and called my two children, who were inside the church, to come out immediately. Then I informed police,” he told reporters.
A bomb disposal squad of the Nepal Army reportedly defused the bomb after nearly four hours. The incident came some two years after a bomb blast rocked the Catholic Assumption Church in the capital Kathmandu during mass, killing two women and a 14-year-old schoolgirl while injuring a dozen others.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the failed attack. However the 2009 church blast was claimed by the underground Nepal Defence Army (NDA) group, which seeks the restoration of Hinduism as the state religion.
Christians have expressed concerns that a 39-year-old NDA leader could walk out of prison a free man, although he masterminded the killing of at least six people.
Besides the church attack, the NDA has been linked to bombing two mosques in southern Nepal that killed two men during prayers and the murder of a Salesian priest from India, Father John Prakash, who headed the Don Bosco School for underprivileged children in the southern Nepalese town of Birgunj.
Nepal’s government is reportedly in negotiations with the NDA. It has promised to withdraw criminal cases against the NDA and release all those detained if it hands over its arms, observers said.
Until the mainly Hindu and Bhuddist Himalayan nation became a republic in May 2008, it had been ruled by monarchs or a ruling family for most of its modern history in relative isolation. It is now under domestic and international pressure to open up and grant more political and religious rights to its roughly 30 million citizens.