Religious freedom roundtable calls for charges to be dropped against pastor

Pastor Keshav Raj Acharya(Photo: CSW)

Human rights campaigners have called on the Attorney General of Nepal to drop all charges against a pastor accused of trying to convert others to the Christian faith.

Pastor Keshav Raj Acharya, who leads Abundant Harvest Church in Pokhara, was first arrested on 23 March after a video was uploaded to YouTube apparently showing him saying that coronavirus could be healed through Christian prayer. The pastor denies uploading the video. 

He was charged with "outraging religious feelings" and "attempting to convert" others to Christianity, crimes under Sections 156 and 158 of the Nepalese Penal Code. 

He has been arrested a total of three times this year, and was being held in Dolpa prison until his lawyer paid NR300,000 bail (around £2,000), after which he was released on 30 June.  

The charges against him still stand and Pastor Keshav is now awaiting a final hearing into his case.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide and 24 other members of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable have signed an open letter to the Nepalese Attorney General calling for all the charges to be dropped.

"The authorities handling of the case shows a lack of concern for rule of law and an unlawful limitation of freedom of speech and religion guaranteed by the Nepali constitution," the letter reads.

"Left unchecked, the arrests and rearrests of Pastor Acharya will set an unhealthy precedent that will further deteriorate the safeguards promulgated under Article 26(1), restricting the freedom of religion and belief of Christians and other religious minorities for simply expressing basic tenets of their belief."

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said the charges against Pastor Keshav were "completely unfounded", and that he was the victim of "a grave and ongoing miscarriage of justice".

He called for the charges against Pastor Keshav to be dropped "immediately and without condition".

"We call on Nepal to respect its international commitments to protect and promote the right to freedom of religion or belief in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is a party, and as a member of the UN Human Rights Council," he added.