A Protestant pastor in Nepal has been convicted of violating the country’s anti-conversion law and was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of approximately US$165.
“Today, Nepalese Christians again have seen their fears realized,” said William Stark, regional manager for South Asia of the rights group International Christian Concern (ICC).
“Nepal’s sweeping anti-conversion law must be repealed if religious freedom is truly a right to be enjoyed by the country’s citizens,” he added.
On November 30, Pastor Keshav Acharya was sentenced to two years imprisonment by the District Court in Dolpa for violating Nepal’s anti-conversion law.
Pastor Acharya was first arrested on March 23, 2020, on charges of spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 virus.
In a viral video published on the internet, Pastor Acharya prayed 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.”
On April 19, 2020, Pastor Acharya was released on bail, but was immediately rearrested outside of the court without a warrant.
He was then sent to the Dolpa District Police where he was charged with proselytizing and distributing Christian tracts in Dolpa.
The District Court in Dolpa convicted Pastor Acharya of violating Nepal’s anti-conversion laws on November 22. His final court hearing was, however, held on November 30.
Proselytization is considered a criminal offense in Nepal. The process of criminalizing religious conversion began in 2015 when Nepal adopted a new constitution.
Article 26 (3) of the country’s new constitution states that “No person shall behave, act or make others act to disturb public law and order situation or convert a person of one religion to another or disturb the religion of other people…such an act shall be punished by law.”
In August 2018, the Nepalese government enacted this controversial portion of the new constitution when it was added to the country’s criminal codes.
Under these new laws, an individual found guilty of even encouraging religious conversions can be fined up to about US$415 and placed in prison for up to five years.
ICC’s Stark said that since the new constitution was adopted in 2015, Nepalese Christians have been concerned that Article 26 and its enacting laws would be used to target their community.