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Pastor in Nepal Sentenced to Two Years in Prison for Violating Anti-Conversion Law

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Nepalese Christians Fear Further Use of Anti-Conversion Law

11/30/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a Christian pastor in Nepal has been convicted of violating the country’s harsh anti-conversion law. The pastor has been sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 20,000 Rupees (approximately $165.00).

On November 30, Pastor Keshav Acharya was sentenced to two years imprisonment by the District Court in Dolpa for violating Nepal’s anti-conversion law. Pastor Acharya was first arrested on March 23, 2020, on charges of spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 virus.

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In a viral video published on the internet, Pastor Acharya prayed in front of his congregation, saying, “Hey, corona – you go and die. May all your deeds be destroyed by the power of the Lord Jesus. I rebuke you, corona, in the name of Lord Jesus Christ. By the power or the ruler of this Creation, I rebuke you… By the power in the name of Lord Jesus Christ, corona, go away and die.

On April 19, 2020, Pastor Acharya was released on bail, but was immediately rearrested outside of the court without a warrant. He was then sent to the Dolpa District Police where he was charged with proselytizing and distributing Christian tracts in Dolpa.

The District Court in Dolpa convicted Pastor Acharya of violating Nepal’s anti-conversion laws on November 22. Pastor Archaya’s final hearing, however, was held on November 30 where he was sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of 20,000 Rupees.

Proselytization is considered a criminal offense in Nepal. The process of criminalizing religious conversion began in 2015 when Nepal adopted a new constitution. Under Article 26 (3) of the new constitution, “No person shall behave, act or make others act to disturb public law and order situation or convert a person of one religion to another or disturb the religion of other people…such an act shall be punished by law.

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In August 2018, the Nepalese government enacted this controversial portion of the new constitution when it was added to the country’s criminal codes. Under these new laws, an individual found guilty of even encouraging religious conversions can be fined up to 50,000 Rupees and placed in prison for up to five years.

William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, said, “We here at International Christian Concern are deeply concerned by the conviction of Pastor Acharya. For more than a year, authorities in the Dopla District have seemed bent on convicting Pastor Acharya of something and punishing him for simply being a Christian pastor. Since the new constitution was adopted in 2015, Nepalese Christians have been concerned that Article 26 and its enacting laws would be used to target their community. Today, Nepalese Christians again have seen their fears realized. Nepal’s sweeping anti-conversion law must be repealed if religious freedom is truly a right to be enjoyed by the country’s citizens.

For interviews, please contact: [email protected].

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This Chinese Church Escaped Persecution, But Now Fears Being Returned to China

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01/26/2022 South Korea (International Christian Concern) – With thanks to an interview conducted by Radio Free Asia (RFA), we have learned that the members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church are due to have their appeal for asylum heard by South Korean courts, following an initial rejection by the lower courts last year.

As many may recall, the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, often referred to as the ‘Mayflower Church’ for its resemblance to those seeking religious freedom on the Mayflower voyage to the US, has been taking refuge on South Korea’s Jeju island since 2019. The unregistered church had begun to face harassment from Chinese government officials and police, as running a church outside of the Chinese regulations is against Chinese law and religious guidelines. In an attempt for a better life for themselves and their children, a contingent of the congregation voted to leave China. However, after two years, their South Korean host has soured on their presence.

The congregation’s initial applications for asylum were rejected, and their appeal is expected to be heard by South Korea’s higher courts soon. If the congregation is denied by the Korean courts, they will be on a short timeline to leave Korea or they will be living there illegally and fearing a possible removal back to China.

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The expected outcome of this congregation’s case remains uncertain, as Chinese nationals are rarely approved for asylum status in South Korea. Some allege this to a result of the South Korean government’s weariness of their communist neighbor – to accept refugee from China would be seen as a direct slight against the regional superpower. The congregation must also demonstrate a significant threat, and when dealing with a nation like China, the threatening party has a tight control on the information. Given that the global community is preparing to tune in for the Beijing Olympics next month, it can be assumed that the world has not fully come to terms with the scale of persecution in China.

Christians are among many of the religious groups in China facing regular and often harsh religious persecution. Under the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping, China continues to demonstrate an open hostility toward religious minorities, meaning that victims of persecution will continue to climb. Should this congregation be returned, it is expected that the CCP will have a close eye on them, if they are not punished for their alleged crime. While the status of the Mayflower Church in Korea remains undecided, we should not assume these Christians are out of options, as other Christian groups have heard their call for help. RFA has reported that this group has also applied for asylum in the US, however, there has been no comment on the situation further.

For questions, please contact: [email protected].

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Religious freedom violations persist in Iran

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(Photo: Getty/iStock)

Christians continue to suffer as a result of widespread religious freedom abuses in Iran, human rights organisations have warned. 

A new joint report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Article 18, Middle East Concern and Open Doors International found that violations persisted in Iran in 2021, with at least 59 Christians arrested over the course of the year.

Thirty Christians endured some form of imprisonment last year while 34 were detained by the authorities. 

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At least 209 individuals were affected by judicial rulings, 35 of whom reported “intense psychological torture”.

The actual numbers are likely to be higher as many cases go unreported “either because no-one raises awareness — arresting authorities frequently issue threats to prevent publicity — or because those involved request confidentiality”, the organisations warned. 

The report notes some positive developments. In November, the Supreme Court said that the prison sentences of nine converts should be reviewed because “promoting Christianity and ‘Zionist evangelism’ in private homes is not an example of gathering and collusion against internal or external security as decided in the original verdict”.

“According to this decree, house-church activities and the promotion even of the pejoratively termed ‘Zionist’ Christianity are not crimes,” the report said.

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“It remains to be seen how this ruling will be applied by the Revolutionary courts, but the Christians have at least since been released while their cases are reviewed.”

In another positive development, officials in the western city of Dezful decided not to press charges against eight Christian converts on the grounds that although apostasy is a crime under Sharia, it is not an offence according to the laws of Iran.

Despite these positive developments, the report warned of “inconsistencies” in the Iranian judicial system after the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of a Christian couple sentenced to 10 years in prison over their involvement in a house church.

“The differing decisions highlight the inconsistencies that plague the judicial system in Iran and suggest that favourable rulings reflect the views of individual judges rather than systemic improvements at the heart of the judiciary,” the report said. 

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Recommendations in the report include a call to the Iranian government to uphold freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) for all citizens, and the release of Christians detained on “spurious charges” relating to their faith or religious activities. 

The report also calls for an end to the criminalisation of house church organisation and membership, and asks the international community to hold Iran accountable on FoRB by raising the issue during political and trade discussions involving the country. 

CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “Once again, this report provides an important reminder of the continuing violations faced by Christians in Iran.

“We urge the Iranian government to take heed of its recommendations and to end what amounts to the criminalisation of the practice of a religion the Iranian constitution claims to recognise.

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“We also call for the government to ensure that all citizens, including members of the Baha’i, Gonabadi Dervishe, Humanist and Sunni communities, are free to enjoy the full right to freedom of religion or belief as articulated in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory.”

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