The bill was signed into law last week by President Bidhya Devi Bhandari and enshrines additional constitutional protection for Hinduism, which 80 percent of the population follows, the Christianity Today website reported.
The new law restricts religious conversion, bans the “hurting of religious sentiment,” and blasphemy.
Offenders face a punishment of five years imprisonment and penalty of fifty thousand rupees [approximately US$770].
The new law comes a decade after the ousted Hindu monarchy declared Nepal a secular state, and two years after the country adopted a new constitution.
Article 26 of the constitution says that, “No one shall attempt to change or convert someone from one religion to another, or disturb/jeopardize the religion of others, and such acts/activities shall be punishable by law.”
Christian Solidarity Worldwide founder Mervyn Thomas said anti-conversion laws often target religious minorities and worsen religious tensions.
“We urge the Nepali government to repeal this unjust law and amend Article 26 (3) of the constitution as they both curtail the right to freedom of religion or belief and undermine Nepal’s commitments under international law,” he said in a statement.
Nepal has seen its Christian population triple in recent years because of conversions. Christians make up 1.4 percent of Nepal’s 29 million people.