A court in Nepal has sentenced a pastor to two years in prison under the country’s harsh anti-conversion law for merely saying that prayers can heal COVID-19, according to reports.
The District Court in Dolpa this week sentenced Pastor Keshab Raj Acharya to two years in prison and a fine of $165 (20,000 Rupees) for suggesting on social media that prayer could bring healing from the coronavirus, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern said in a statement.
Pastor Acharya was first arrested on March 23 last year from his home in Pokhara, Gandaki Pradesh Province, on charges of spreading false information regarding COVID-19. Though he was released about a fortnight later, 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, 2020, after paying bail equal to about $2,500.
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.”
William Stark, ICC’s regional manager for South Asia, said: “For more than a year, authorities in the Dolpa District have seemed bent on convicting Pastor Acharya of something and punishing him for simply being a Christian pastor. 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.”
Stark added that “Nepal’s sweeping anti-conversion law must be repealed if religious freedom is truly a right to be enjoyed by the country’s citizens.”
After his release last July, Acharya had told Morning Star News that it was a “very difficult” time for him.
“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,” he said at the time.
Acharya told the outlet he believed 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.”
Senior Counsel Govinda Bandi, who was defending the pastor, told the U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide at the time that his repeated arrest was a “very worrying sign of the trajectory of religious freedom in this country.”