A pastor imprisoned for over three months in Nepal for saying prayers can heal the novel coronavirus was released after paying a hefty bail this month.
Pastor Keshab Raj Acharya was first arrested on March 23 on charges of spreading false information for saying prayers can heal COVID-19. The pastor was taken into custody from his home in Pokhara, Gandaki Pradesh Province, after a video appeared on social media of him rebuking the coronavirus as he preached at his church.
Though he was released on April 8, he was rearrested moments later on charges of “outraging religious feelings” and “proselytizing.”
After more than three months in prison, he was released on July 3 after paying bail equal to about $2,500, Morning Star News reports.
“It was very difficult for me,” Pastor Acharya said. “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 hope that if it is in His will that I should be put through this, He would get me out of this.”
Acharya told the outlet he believes government officials and police worked together against him. “They were laying a thorough plan to make sure I would stay in the jail for a longer period.”
The Nepal police website states that Kaski police officers arrested Acharya for misleading the public by posting false information on social media about the novel coronavirus. Police cited a YouTube video showing him calling the coronavirus an evil spirit and rebuking it in the name of Christ.
According to the Himalayan Times, the pastor allegedly said in the video that COVID-19 could do nothing to followers of Jesus Christ and told them the virus “could not even touch the followers of Jesus.”
The Himalayan Times said the pastor preached in a highly-populated squatters area, but the police report only cites his comments on social media, according to Morning Star News.
Christian leaders in the predominantly Hindu Himalayan country told the outlet that the charges against the father of two young children violate a freedom of religion agreement to which Nepal is a signatory. Nepal has been a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council since 2018 and is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Senior Counsel Govinda Bandi, who is defending the pastor, told CSW that his repeated arrest was a “very worrying sign of the trajectory of religious freedom in this country.”
“The police are clearly acting outside the scope of the constitution and without any regard to the rules of criminal procedure,” Bandi said. “There seems to be a concerted effort to use the draconian provisions in the Penal Code to target him that will also threaten the wider minority community with penal sanctions for practicing their religion or belief. Furthermore, the whole allegation against him, is forged on unfounded and prejudiced allegations. This is without a doubt a targeted persecution and a travesty of our justice system.”
Persecution watchdog Open Doors USA ranks Nepal 32nd on its World Watch List of 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. Persecution against Christians worsened in 2017 when the Nepalese parliament passed legislation banning religious conversions and “the hurting of religious feelings.”
Last year, four Christians were arrested Nepal, including a United States citizen, months after the law criminalizing religious conversion went into effect. A Christian society leader, an Indian national, a citizen of Colorado and a Nepali interpreter were arrested at their hotel for their alleged involvement in religious conversion by "allurement.”
In 2016, seven Christians were arrested in the Dolakha district for handing out Bibles.