Nepali pastor Keshab Raj Acharya, arrested for praying and handing out Gospel tracts, faces a one-year prison sentence after the Supreme Court in Nepal declined to hear his case. He has appealed for the sentence to be converted to a fine, and is being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International.
Acharya was arrested in March 2020 and again in April 2020 on charges of “outraging religious feelings” and “proselytizing” for praying and distributing religious leaflets. According to the U.S. Embassy in Nepal, the country’s constitution “provides for the right of citizens to profess and practice their own religion.” However, it prohibits the attempt to convert anyone from one religion to another, and the law prohibits “harming the religious sentiment” of any class, caste or ethnic group.
On March 23, 2020, Acharya received a call from a man asking for prayer for his sick wife, and he invited the man to his home. Later, police came and arrested Acharya.
He was released less than a month later on April 8, his wife’s birthday, but was arrested again the next day. “After his release, I sat with him for a moment and prayed, thanking God for hearing my prayer,” his wife said. “But 10 minutes later, police came and handcuffed him again.”
“When I was in prison,” Acharya said, “I prayed to God, ‘Lord, if it is Your will, release me from this place.’ … I became very near to Him in that place.”
In November 2021, Acharya was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 20,000 rupees, approximately $170. He was released on bail in December 2021. On July 13, 2022, the Jumla High Court reduced the sentence to one year. ADF International helped Acharya appeal the decision and he was released on bail until Nepal’s Supreme Court heard the case.
However, the Supreme Court declined to hear it, upholding the Jumla High Court’s decision.
“On the first hearing, our request was blatantly dismissed by the Supreme Court without a glance at the documents,” Acharya told Morning Star News in November. “They insisted that the (Jumla) High Court’s decision would stand as final, refusing any further discussion on the matter.” The Supreme Court released an order on Jan. 23 for Acharya to serve the one-year sentence.
Acharya is hoping the Supreme Court agrees to convert the sentence to a fine.
“The witnesses said that I did not even ask them to convert, only gave them tracts; they read it and discarded it,” he said.
Acharya is a 35-year-old husband and father of two. He pastors Abundant Harvest Church in Pokhara, Nepal. “My children are very close to me. They are used to not seeing me for few days or a week when I go for ministry trips, but one full year is a long time,” he said.
“While the Nepali constitution contains several provisions that guarantee the right to practice and profess the religion of one’s choice, there are some provisions under the penal code that restrict the everyday practice of one’s faith,” said Tehmina Arora, ADF’s director of advocacy in Asia. “Pastor Keshab has, unfortunately, fallen victim to these unjust provisions.”
“While facing more jail time is distressing, I find solace in God, believing that anything is possible through Him,” said Acharya. “I urge the international community to engage with the Nepali government to safeguard religious freedom in order to pave the way for true religious freedom for everyone in Nepal. I thank everyone for their continued support and prayers for me and my family.”
Photo: Alliance Defending Freedom International