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Bhutan’s proposed ‘anti-conversion’ law feared by Christians
Bhutan’s government has proposed a new “anti-conversion” bill that is being used by vigilantes in other nations as a means to falsely accuse and imprison Christians.
The bill cites Bhutan’s Penal Code under section 463 which says, “A defendant shall be guilty of the offense of proselytization if the defendant uses coercion or other forms of inducement to cause the conversion of a person from one religion or faith to another,” Compass Direct News said.
The bill, which is expected to be passed in Parliament’s next session, has incited fear among Christian clergymen. One pastor said Bhutan always had a “virtual” anti-conversion law, but this new bill would set it on paper and it may be used to control the growth of Christianity, CDN said.
Under the bill misdemeanors will be punishable by one to three years in prison. A pastor who requested anonymity said the bill will permit the arrest of Christians even at frivolous complaints of local residents, CDN said.
Bhutan has a population of 683,407 people with 75 percent Buddhist and 22 percent Hindu. There are some 6,000 Christians, but no church building nor registered Christian body. The Bible has been translated into both Dzongkha (Bhutan’s national language) and Nepali (the ethnicity of most Bhutan Christians), CDN said.
Before Bhutan became a democracy in 2008 it was ruled by absolute monarchy which had prevailed for hundreds of years. Although the constitution allows freedom of religion, Christianity is not officially recognized, and it is not mentioned in Bhutan’s official website which mentions Mahayana Buddhism, Hinduism, Bon, animism and shamanism, CDN says.
Lyonpo Minjur Dorji, Home and Culture minister, said Bhutan had no argument with Christianity. “But Bhutan is a small country, with a little more than 600,000 people, and a majority of them are Buddhist. We have Hindus, also, mainly in southern parts. So why do we need more religions?” CDN said.
The country, which has largely lived in extreme isolation amid the Himalayas and between India and Tibet, has embedded Buddhism in its political and social life. Buddhism has largely kept the populace united and daily life orbits around its monastery, CDN said.
The country views culture, rather than its military, as a means to protect its sovereignty, and Dorji is equally charged with preservation of culture and internal security. Bhutan is also concerned that Tibet has become a part of China and Sikkim is now a part of India, CDN said.
Sikkim had been an independent Buddhist kingdom until Hindus from Nepal migrated gradually until they came to outnumber the Buddhists. Under a 1975 referendum 75 percent of Sikkim who were largely Nepalese voted to become a state of India, CDN said.
Bhutan authorities responded by harshly cracking down on ethnic Nepalese through ethnic cleansing in the 1980s which led to some 100,000 Nepalese, many Christians among them, to lose their homes, CDN said.
To further strengthen their cultural integrity they implement laws that require the people to speak their national language and wear their national dress. The architecture must also be uniform. Violators are fined and imprisoned, CDN said.