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The Nepal Supreme Court has ignored a Nepali pastor’s appeal against a judgment of forced conversion. The court refused to hear Pastor Keshab Archaya’s appeal against charges of “outraging religious feeling” and “proselytizing” in November and issued an order in January for the pastor to serve a reduced sentence of one year in jail. Pastor Acharya, 35, of Abundant Harvest Church in Pokhara, Nepal has appealed the order, hoping to convert his jail time into a fine. Despite the ruling, Archaya expressed his reliance on God. “While facing more jailtime is distressing, I find solace in God, believing that anything is possible through Him.” He also asked the international community to pressure the Nepali government to support religious freedom. “I thank everyone for their continued support and prayers for me and my family,” he concluded.

Archaya’s troubles began in March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A man called Archaya to pray for his sick wife. Archaya then invited the man to his home. He was arrested soon after for violating Nepal’s anti-conversion laws. He was released a month later on his wife’s birthday, only to be arrested again the next day with the aforementioned charges. Archaya was released on a bail of $4,084 (500,000 Nepalese rupees) in May before being arrested again on a third set of charges and was taken to the Dolpha District, a three day journey from his home with his wife, Junu and their two young children. Archaya was released again on a bail of $2,500 (3,00,000 Nepalese rupees) but had to continue appearing to court three times a month for each case. In November 2021, Archaya was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 20,000 Nepali rupees ($150). He was released on bail in time for Christmas. The Jumla High Court reviewed the case in July 2022 and confirmed the conviction but reduced the sentence to one year, which was then sent on to the Supreme Court for this latest ruling. Tehmina Arora, Director of Advocacy, Asia for ADF International, condemned the Supreme Court’s order. “No one should live in fear of being arrested or criminally charged for peacefully sharing their religious beliefs. And no one should be sent to prison for praying and sharing their faith. In upholding Pastor Keshab’s prison sentence, the Supreme Court of Nepal has not only violated his basic human rights to religious freedom, but also missed out on a crucial opportunity to set a positive precedent allowing others to engage in prayer and evangelism without fear of punishment,” said Arora.

Although the Napli government has established itself as a secular state with religious freedom enshrined in its constitution in 2015, its anti-conversion laws passed in 2018 made it illegal for anyone to encourage someone to change their faith. Anyone found guilty of such a crime could face up to five years in jail. Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha, is mainly Hindu, but the Christian community has exploded in the last few decades due to Christian missionaries, mainly from South Korea. Archaya’s wife stated she believes the sentence is a government attempt to keep Christians in Nepal from sharing their faith. “The witnesses said that Keshab is not involved in any kind of religious conversion, and that he had simply distributed paper pamphlets which they read and discarded,” she said. Please pray for Pastor Archaya’s appeal to convert his jail time to a fine.

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