An international gathering of religious freedom advocates called on the government of Nepal to drop charges against a pastor who was accused of “outraging religious feelings.”
Police in Kaski district arrested Christian Pastor Keshav Raj Acharya on March 23 after accusing him of allegedly spreading false information about the new coronavirus pandemic.
The police action came after social media circulated a video showing the pastor praying against the disease.
The controversial video showed Acharya praying in front of his congregation, saying: “Hey, corona — you go and die. May all your deeds be destroyed by the power of the Lord Jesus. I rebuke you, corona, in the name of Lord Jesus Christ. By the power or the ruler of this Creation, I rebuke you… By the power in the name of Lord Jesus Christ, corona, go away and die.”
Acharya denied uploading the video on YouTube.
This week, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a human rights organization specializing in freedom of religion or belief, joined 24 other members of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable in calling on Nepal’s attorney-general for the immediate dropping of all charges against Acharya.
“The charges against Pastor Keshav are completely unfounded, and the handling of his case represents a grave and ongoing miscarriage of justice,” said Mervyn Thomas, CSW’s chief executive.
“We call on Nepal to respect its international commitments to protect and promote the right to freedom of religion or belief,” added Thomas.
CSW reported that on April 8, Acharya posted a US$42 bail but he was not released.
On April 9, he was charged with “outraging religious feelings” and “attempting to convert” under Sections 156 and 158 of the Nepalese Penal Code.
A District Court subsequently ordered a bail amounting to about US$4,2000 on April 19.
Despite having paid the amount on May 13, Acharya was arrested for the third time and was immediately transferred to the Dolpa District Police Office.
Acharya was finally released from Dolpa prison on June 30 after his lawyer deposited a bail amounting to about US$2,500.
To date, the pastor awaits the final hearing of his case.
In an open letter, the International Religious Freedom Roundtable noted that the handling of the case by authorities “shows a lack of concern for rule of law and an unlawful limitation of freedom of speech and religion guaranteed by the Nepali constitution.”
“Left unchecked, the arrests and rearrests of Pastor Acharya will set an unhealthy precedent that will further deteriorate the safeguards promulgated under Article 26(1), restricting the freedom of religion and belief of Christians and other religious minorities for simply expressing basic tenets of their belief,” it added.
The letter sent to Nepal’s attorney-general on July 19 remains unanswered.
The news site Matters India quoted a leading Catholic leader in Nepal as saying that the arrest of Acharya “has become a sensitive issue even among Christians.”
Chirendra Satyal, a leading Catholic lay leader in Nepal said: “Christians of all denominations accept that the pastor was arrested because of his religion.”