Nepalese Christians released after being imprisoned for praying for a mentally ill woman

ReutersA Christian boy holds a placard in a Christian protest in Nepal, where Christians account for less than two percent of Hindu-majority Nepal's 28 million people.

Four Nepali Christians who were sentenced to five years' imprisonment for 'violence and witchcraft' after praying for a woman with mental illnesses, have had their sentences overturned, according to World Watch Monitor

Lali Pun, Bimkali Budha, Ruplal Pariyar and his wife Ganga were imprisoned in July 2016 for 'witchcraft, forceful imprisonment and violence'. They were found guilty in December despite the woman for whom they prayed, Seti Pariyar, testifying in court that she had been healed through their prayer, with her husband claiming they were innocent.

Nate Lance, Advocacy Manager for International Christian Concern, said of the release of the Christians: 'International Christian Concern is so pleased that this situation has reached its rightful resolution. However, the imprisonment of these Christians should have never taken place as the facts of their innocence were clear. This is a step in the right direction for religious freedom in Nepal, but there is still much work to be done. No one should fear imprisonment for the free expression and practice of their religion.'

The five had been imprisoned since July 2016 for 'witchcraft, forceful imprisonment and violence' towards the woman, despite her husband saying they did not behave in a forceful or aggressive manner.

They were also questioned in court about trying to convert the woman, although they were not charged with proselytisation, which was outlawed in Nepal in 2015.

Pariyar met the four Christians at a church, to which she had been sent by her father-in-law for healing prayer from apparent 'demonic possession'.

After Pariyar left the church, she was found shouting and self-harming in a nearby forest, and escorted home.

This incident was described over a month later by a local businessmen to the media and, on the basis of that story, Bhisma Pariyar filed a complaint against Pun, Budha, Ruplal and Ganga Pariyar, and one other who was found innocent, which led to their arrest.

Their wrongful imprisonment signals the increasing restrictions on religious freedom in Nepal. This year, it was made illegal to convert to any non-Hindu religion, even though Nepal's 2015 constitution already limits freedom of religion and conversion.

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