Four Christians Still Languishing in Napali Jail
SANTA ANA, CA (January 20, 2001) — Amid fears that Hindu extremists are persecuting Christians in greater numbers, Nepali church leaders launched the Forum for Human Concern in Nepal in January to safeguard religious freedom and garner international support for the release of four Christians jailed since October 29 on charges of proselytizing.
One of the four Christians is a Norwegian national, Trond Berg. The others are Nepali: Mr. Devi Bhattarai, a Baptist pastor; Mr. Timothy Rai, a Campus Crusade for Christ staff member; and Mr. Prem Bahadur Rai, a businessman and church leader.
“This is the first time our government has ever put a foreigner from a donor country in jail for such a long time, so we feel we see the hand of Hindu extremists behind this case,” said Mr. Loknath Manaen, one of the Forum’s founders, speaking from Kathmandu on January 16.
The four Christians were attacked in late October by a mob in Rajbiraj, a town about 200 kilometers southeast of Kathmandu near the Indian border, where Timothy Rai was conducting meetings in the local Baptist church. The first day of meetings on October 28 went without incident. But the next day, a man claiming to be from the Red Cross arrived and demanded 5 million rupees ($65,000) from Trond Berg. After being rebuffed, the man returned with 30 others and began to assault the Norwegian. Timothy Rai came to his aid and was also beaten. The police intervened to stop a fatal mugging.
Berg and Timothy Rai were then taken to the police station with Bhattarai and Prem Rai. The police superintendent examined them while 15 members of the mob looked on. One of these “observers,” Lokendra Kumar Jha, testified that the Mr. Bhattarai, the Baptist pastor, offered him 40,000 rupees ($550) to convert to Christianity.
Jha also testified that Trond Berg had been in the town a week. After the accused produced bus tickets to prove the claim was false, Jha became quiet, but his dubious evidence landed the Christians in jail.
The four were arraigned November 1 in Rajbiraj in a courthouse besieged by Hindu sadhus (holy men) bussed in from India to chant through loudspeakers against the Christians. According to a January 9 Forum report, “The situation and mood were so ugly that the judge relented to the pressure of the people, and … ordered that they be put to prison.”
Trond Berg has since been transferred to Kathmandu Central Jail, but the other three remain incarcerated in Rajbiraj. The Nepal Supreme Court refused to hear Berg’s case. The high court also rejected a separate petition in January to return the other three to the capital to ensure a fair trial.
The newly formed Forum for Human Concern in Nepal is concerned about the rise in the number of atrocities against Christians in this predominantly Hindu state. Christians number about 400,000 in a population of 20 million, and the church is growing rapidly.
Hindu extremist organizations from India have organized in Nepal, and they are reportedly responsible for much of the opposition to Christianity. Nepal became a democracy in 1990 but in many ways still operates like a feudal kingdom. According to the Forum, two Christian leaders were shot dead three years ago by police as suspected Maoist terrorists, but the evidence against the believers was scant. A number of church buildings and homes of Christians have been burned and demolished in recent years.
“We foresee more troubles for the Christians in this land,” the January 9 Forum statement said. They ask for Western Christians to pray and bring pressure on the Nepali government to deal justly with the four Christian prisoners and to stand up to the extremists.
This story was supplied by Open Doors USA. For more information on the ministry of Open Doors, write: Open Doors with Brother Andrew, PO Box 27001, Santa Ana, CA 92799 or call: (949) 752-6600. The Open Doors USA Web site can be found at www.opendoorsusa.org.