Nepalese Supreme Court Sentences Pastor to Year in Prison for Sharing the Gospel
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The Supreme Court of Nepal has upheld the decision of a lower court to sentence a Nepali pastor to one year in prison and a fine for allegedly attempting to convert someone to Christianity.
Pastor Keshab Raj Acharya of Abundant Harvest Church in Pokhara, Nepal, has been sentenced to one-year imprisonment and a $75 fine, or $10,000 Nepalese rupees, for violating the country's anti-conversion law, which went into effect in 2018.
Acharya was sentenced by the Dolpa District Court in 2021 but challenged the verdict to the country's high court.
In October, the Supreme Court rejected Acharya's application and upheld the lower court's verdict.
"We were very hopeful from the Supreme Court and the judgment has come as a shock to us. We still are not able to understand the reason for such a judgment," Junu Acharya, the pastor's wife, told the Christian Post.
She added that her husband could be arrested at any time.
Acharya was first arrested in March of 2020 when a video was uploaded to YouTube of the pastor claiming COVID-19 could be healed through prayer, Christian Today reports.
The 35-year-old pastor denied uploading the video.
He was arrested, again, one year later, for offering to pray for a man's sick wife. He was released but was subsequently charged and arrested for "outraging religious feelings" and "attempting to convert" others to Christianity for handing out gospel tracts, crimes under Sections 156 and 158 of the Nepalese Penal Code.
Despite the lack of substantial evidence, Acharya was convicted based on the testimony of one person. No other witnesses came forward to confirm the claims.
"The witnesses said that Keshab is not involved in any kind of religious conversion and that he had simply distributed paper pamphlets which they read and discarded," Junu explained.
Acharya was imprisoned for three months but was later released on bail.
"It was very difficult for me. I would think of my little children and my wife, and I would cry out to the Lord in prayer. I would look up at Him in hopes that if it is His will that I should be put through this, He would get me out of this," the pastor shared.
Junu maintains that her husband is innocent stating, "He had not forced anybody to change their religion."
Joseph Jansen, the chairman of the advocacy group Voice for Justice, told AsiaNews, "It is illegal and unethical to compel someone to change their faith by use of threat or coercion; however, Pastor Keshav Acharya did not resort to coercion to convert anyone to Christianity. The pastor only exercised his right to freedom of religion and did not commit any offense. It is regrettable that Nepal's anti-conversion laws are worded and enforced in such a way that they may also be applied as anti-blasphemy measures."
Junu believes her husband's conviction is a deliberate effort by the Nepalese government to deter the growth of Christianity.
Christians have faced a steady rise in persecution since 2018.
"No one should be sentenced for praying and sharing the gospel. Nepalese citizens have a fundamental right to practice and profess the religion of their choice, in accordance with international standards," said Tehmina Arora, Director of Advocacy, Asia for ADF International, in a statement.
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