Nepal Releases Jailed Pastor On Bail
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
KATHMANDU (Worthy News) – A pastor who served a one-year jail sentence in Nepal on charges linked to evangelizing has been released on bail, Worthy News established Monday.
Keshav Raj Acharya of the evangelical Abundant Harvest Church in the central city of Pokhara was charged with “outraging religious feelings” and “attempting to convert,” violating Nepal’s anti-conversion laws.
He has traveled in Nepal distributing Gospel tracts and openly spoke about his faith in Christ but denied “forcing people to change their religion” or paying money to do so.
The 34-year-old married father with two young children has faced prosecution for years, His wife and Christians said. Initially detained in March 2020, he had been accused of spreading false information about COVID-19 after uttering a recorded statement that “God is able to heal.”
He was briefly released on bail in May 2020, only to be rearrested and forced to pay even more for his freedom from prison a month later, Worthy News learned.
While charges related to his COVID-19 remarks were dropped, he was again detained in November 2021. That year, he became the first person convicted of “proselytizing” under Nepal’s strict anti-conversion legislation.
“Keshav went to the court for his regular hearing. We had no idea that he would be convicted that day and not return home,” said his wife, Junu Acharya, in published remarks.
Prosecutors claimed he tried to convert Hindus to Christianity and was “outraging religious feelings” by spreading the Gospel.
He was sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of $167 until bail was granted in December 2021, trial observers confirmed.
In June last year, the Pokhara District Court in Kaski dropped all charges against Acharya, but the High Court overturned that ruling a month later.
The High Court sentenced him in July to one year in prison, but after serving about half his sentence, allowed the pastor to be freed on bail on January 8, Christians told Worthy News. No more details were released about the exact bail amount, but even hundreds of dollars would mean a significantburden for most people in Asia’s poorest nation.
The pastor’s appeal hearing was expected Friday, February 10. While he was away, Pastor Acharya’s wife, Junu, led churches in two locations with a combined membership of about 500 people, Worthy News learned.
Christians supporting said they have been urging prayers for the pastor and his family.
The crackdown by authorities has been partly linked to pressure from radical Hindu groups opposing the spread of Christianity in the mainly Hindu nation.
Some 1.3 million Christians live among a predominantly Hindu population of roughly 30.5 million, according to the Christian advocacy group Open Doors. “Though Nepal is no longer an official Hindu state, most Christian persecution in Nepal comes from radical Hindu groups who want the country to return to Hinduism,” Open Doors confirmed.
“Many of the Christians in Nepal are converts from Hinduism. And these converts experience significant pressure from their families and communities,” the group added.
Despite the pressure, Acharya’s Abundant Harvest Church had not given up hope. It is among the fastest-growing congregations in Nepal, a country flanked by China and India and home to eight of the world’s highest mountains, such as Mount Everest.
There were no indications that the anti-conversion laws used to target devoted Christians would be changed under Pushpa Kamal Dahal, sworn in as prime minister in December last year.
The veteran politician previously held the prime ministerial post from 2008 to 2009 and from 2016 to 2017.
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