WASHINGTON — The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has released a report highlighting concerns surrounding the rise of anti-conversion and anti-blasphemy laws in South Asia over the past decade.
“[G]overnments across the South Asia region have taken legal measures to prohibit religious conversions from the dominant religious group,” the commission explains in its introduction. “Often the motivation behind these laws, though not officially stated as such, is to protect the dominant religious tradition from a perceived threat from minority religious groups.”
It outlines that the means to prevent others from converting from the dominant religion, such as Hinduism and Islam, vary. The report points to countries such as Bangladesh, which is 86 percent Muslim; Pakistan, which is 96.5 percent Muslim; Sri Lanka, which is 70 percent Buddhist; and India and Nepal, which are both 80 percent Hindu.
“[I]n India, several state legislatures have adopted laws limiting conversions away from Hinduism; in Pakistan, national blasphemy laws are used to criminalize attempts by non-Muslims to convert Muslims; and in India, Pakistan, and Nepal, governments are
tightening their control over non-governmental organizations (NGOs), especially foreign missionary groups,” the commission notes.
In Nepal, a new criminal code went into effect in August that reportedly aims to ban evangelization in the country.
“[T]hose convicted under the law could serve up to five years in prison and pay up to 50,000 rupees (USD $690) in fines,” the report outlines. “While no one has been arrested under the law, immediately before the implementation of the law in 2018, a Christian couple was deported from the country based on allegations of conversion. The true impact of the law will emerge as the law begins to be implemented.”
Similarly, lawmakers in Jharkhand, India passed an anti-conversion bill last year, and the legislature in Uttarakhand is currently considering a measure that would prohibit coercion.
This past summer, a minister of the Bharatiya Janata Party of Arunachal Pradesh offered to initiate talks to repeal the state’s anti-conversion law as he believes that the prohibition discriminates against Christians.
“Critics, however, view this as an effort to pander for votes in a state that is majority Christian as of 2011, and other BJP members have said the law will not be repealed,” the report explains. “Indigenous tribal members also criticized the idea of repealing the state’s anti-conversion law, stating that removal of the law may facilitate more tribal members converting away from indigenous faiths.”
In Pakistan, blasphemy laws are often used to punish those who speak against the Islamic religion. The report points to preacher Zafar Bhatti, who was charged with blasphemy in 2014 and sentenced to life in prison.
“A religious minority preaching to or attempting to consensually convert a Muslim to a non-Muslim faith can experience heavy-handed enforcement of the blasphemy law by state authorities,” it outlines. “Moreover, mere accusations of blasphemy trigger the wrath of violent mobs that attack religious minorities with impunity or even with support from state actors, including the local police.”
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom says that countries must strike a balance between protecting the rights of men to share their faith with the government interest of guarding against forced conversion.
“Anti-conversion laws are frequently abused by extremists who seek to prevent anyone from leaving the majority religion,” remarked Commissioner Nadine Maenza in a statement. “These laws abrogate the religious freedom rights of minority communities, such as Hindus in Pakistan or Christians in Nepal, and as such they should be rescinded.”
As previously reported, none can be forced to convert to Christianity, for it is not merely by the decision of men, but the working of the Holy Spirit, as a man must be born again and have his very nature changed in order to enter the kingdom of Heaven (John 3:3).
“But after that the kindness and love of God, our Savior, toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior,” Titus 3:4-6 states.
“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them,” Ezekiel 26-27 also teaches.