Pastor Keshav Raj Acharya of the Abundant Harvest Church in Pokhara, Nepal, was found guilty of proselytisation by the Dolpa District Court on 22 November.
According to statement by Religious Freedom Advocacy group, CSW, he was immediately arrested and placed in prison, and a sentencing hearing has been set for 30 November.
Pastor Keshav was first arrested by the Kaski District Police on 23 March 2020 after a video of him saying that COVID-19 could be healed through Christian prayer was uploaded on YouTube on 22 February. The pastor has denied uploading the video. Pastor Keshav was finally released on bail from the Dolpa prison on 30 June 2020.
He has been charged under Section 158 (1) and (2) of the Penal Code, which prohibits proselytisation and carries maximum term of five years imprisonment and a fine not exceeding NR50,000 (approximately GBP £312).
In July 2020 CSW joined 24 organisations of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable in signing a joint letter addressed to the Attorney General of Nepal calling for the unfounded charges against Pastor Keshav to be dropped. In July 2021 CSW made similar calls in a statement delivered at the 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council.
Senior Counsel Govinda Bandi, who is defending Pastor Keshav, told CSW: “While the conviction by the district court is a baseless one, there is further travesty of justice as Pastor Keshav was immediately arrested and put in prison, which is in clear violation of the rules of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). The authorities cannot do such a thing as his trial is still on going before the court. Under the CPC, this is a bailable offence and he has a right to appeal against the decision of the court and until he has appealed, and the case has not concluded, they cannot put him in prison.”
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “We are deeply concerned by the decision of the Dolpa District Court to convict Pastor Keshav, which sets a worrying judicial precedent. This is a severe encroachment on the fundamental right to speak about one’s religion or belief, which now risks being interpreted as an attempt at converting others. The arrest and imprisonment of Pastor Keshav immediately after his hearing clearly reflects the disregard by the authorities to established legal procedure. The misguided handling of Pastor Keshav case by the state since his first arrest in March 2020 has thrown a cloud of doubt over Nepal’s willingness and ability to protecting the rights of religious minorities. We urge the authorities to reconsider their decision and call on the international community to encourage Nepal to uphold the right to freedom of religion or belief as articulated under Article 18 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.”