On 23 January the Nepali Supreme Court released an order for Pastor Keshav Raj Acharya to serve one year in prison, after it refused to hear his appeal. Since there is no other legal avenue to appeal his conviction, the pastor’s legal team is exploring whether he could have his sentence reduced or converted into a fine.
“The decision of the Supreme Court to decline to hear the appeal and therefore confirm the sentencing of Pastor Keshav to one year in prison is distressing,” said Tehmina Arora, Director of Advocacy, Asia for ADF International. “Pastor Keshav was merely helping sick people by praying to God for their well-being. The District Court’s decision went beyond the scope of the law and needs to be corrected. Together with Pastor Keshav’s local lawyer, Indra Prasad Aryal, we are exploring the possibility of having his prison sentence reduced and converted into a fine.”
Pastor Keshav (35) of Abundant Harvest Church in Pokhara city was arrested in March 2020 after praying for healing and sharing gospel tracts. He was charged with proselytising and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.
In June 2022 Pokhara District Court dropped all charges but the following month, in a shock to the pastor and his family, the High Court confirmed his conviction for proselytising, reducing the sentence to one year’s imprisonment.
Pastor Keshav’s lawyer appealed the decision to the Supreme Court and also applied for bail, which was granted in January 2023, but in October 2023 the Supreme Court upheld his sentence without hearing his appeal. His lawyer appealed again.
Following the latest dismissal of his appeal, Pastor Keshav said: “While facing more jailtime is distressing, I find solace in God, believing that anything is possible through Him. 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.”
ADF’s Tehmina Arora further commented, “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 Keshav’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. We urge the Nepali government to ensure that all are able to freely practice and profess their faith by safeguarding fundamental freedoms in line with its international commitments.”