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Bhutanese Christians told to leave the faith or leave the country

The tiny Christian minority in Bhutan - just 0.33% of the population - has been told to either renounce their faith or leave the country.

On Palm Sunday (8 April), Bhutanese authorities and police went to churches to register the names of believers. Many pastors were detained for interrogation and threatened with imprisonment. Other believers scattered for fear of being identified.

Bhutan, the only Buddhist Kingdom in the world, has no written constitution or bill of rights. There is no legal guarantee of freedom of religion. Buddhism is the state religion and non Buddhists suffer political and social discrimination. 70.1 % of a population of 1,800,000, are Lamaistic Buddhists, 24% are Hindu, 5% Muslims, 0.6% Animist, 0.33% are Christians, (of whom 500 are Catholics).

Persecution against Christians is now widespread, systematic, village by village. The campaign started last year when the government began sending official forms to government employees and private businesses demanding the Christians to sign undertakings to comply with 'rules and regulations governing the practice of religion'. Penalties for practicing the Christian faith include no free education for children, no free medical facilities, no promotion, and no visas for travelling abroad.

One Bhutanese Christian told Fides: "In some places (Christians) are beaten very badly. They are not allowed to gather anymore. Freedom of religion has been taken away. Christians now face termination of employment, expulsion from the country, cancellation of trade licenses and denial of all state benefits."