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Pastor in Nepal Sentenced for Saying Prayer Can Cure COVID-19

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Pastor Keshab Acharya |

A Nepalese court has sentenced a pastor to two years in jail under the country’s harsh anti-conversion law for simply saying prayers can cure COVID-19, according to reports.

The Dolpa District District Court this week sentenced Pastor Keshab Raj Acharya to two years in prison and fined 20,000 rupees (about $ 165.00) for suggesting on social media that prayer could bring death. recovery from the novel coronavirus, the United States-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern said in a statement.

Pastor Acharya was first arrested on March 23 last year at his home in Pokhara, Gandaki Pradesh province, for spreading false information about COVID-19. Although he was released about a fortnight later, he was arrested again moments later for “insulting religious feelings” and “proselytizing”.

After more than three months in prison, he was released on July 3, 2020, after posting bail of approximately $ 2,500.

In a viral video posted online, Pastor Acharya prayed outside his congregation saying, “Hey, corona – go and die. May all your actions be destroyed by the power of the Lord Jesus. I rebuke you, crown, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. By the power or the ruler of this Creation, I rebuke you… By the power in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, crown, go away and die.

William Stark, ICC Regional Director for South Asia, commented: “For over a year, authorities in Dolpa District seemed to want to condemn Pastor Acharya for something and punish him just because he was. a Christian pastor. Since the adoption of the new constitution in 2015, Christians in Nepal have feared that Article 26 and its implementing laws could be used to target their community.

Stark added that “Nepal’s radical anti-conversion law must be repealed if religious freedom is truly a right enjoyed by the country’s citizens.”

After his release last July, Acharya told Morning Star News that it was a “very difficult” period for him.

“I thought of my little children and my wife, and I cried out to the Lord in prayer. I would watch him in the hope that if it was in his will that I had to go through this, he would get me out of there, ”he said at the time.

Acharya told the outlet he believed government officials and police were working together against him. “They were making a detailed plan to make sure I stayed in jail longer.”

Counsel Govinda Bandi, who was defending the pastor, Recount UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide at the time his repeated arrest was a “very disturbing sign of the trajectory of religious freedom in this country.”

“The police are clearly acting outside the scope of the constitution and without any respect for the rules of criminal procedure,” Bandi said. “There appears to be a concerted effort to use the draconian provisions of the Penal Code to target him, which will also threaten the wider minority community with criminal penalties for practicing his religion or belief. Moreover, the entire allegation against him is based on unfounded and one-sided allegations. This is undoubtedly targeted persecution and a travesty of our justice system. “

Christians have been under attack since before the promulgation of the country’s new constitution in September 2015.

Low-intensity explosions occurred in two churches in eastern Nepal around this time. Brochures promoting Hindu nationalism were found in each of the churches and a nationalist group, Hindu Morcha Nepal, issued a press release calling on Christian leaders to leave the country and Christian converts to return to Hinduism.

The constitution establishes Nepal as a secular country, but also effectively prohibits evangelism, as it states that no one is allowed to attempt to convert people of other faiths to their own. He also calls for the protection of Hinduism, the majority religion.

Article 26 (3) of the constitution states: “No one shall behave, act or cause other persons to act to disturb the situation of public order or to convert a person from one religion to another or to disturb the religion of other people… such an act must be punished by law.

In 2018, the Nepalese government added the controversial part of the constitution to the country’s penal code, which states that a person found guilty of even encouraging religious conversions can be fined up to Rs 50,000. (approximately $ 670) and a jail term of up to five years.

Hindu nationalist groups in Nepal allege Hinduism is under threat as more people may convert to Christianity. They called for the exclusion of the term “secularism” – which in the South Asian context means equal treatment of all religions by the state – from the charter of Nepal, which was a Hindu monarchy until 2006.

The persecution watchdog Open Doors USA ranks Nepal 34th on its global watch list of the 50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian.