Keshav Acharya

Name: Keshav Acharya

Country/Area of Origin: Nepal

Background: Keshav Acharya is the pastor of Abundant Harvest Church in Pokhara, Nepal. Pastor Keshav is 33 years old.

Reason for Arrest:

In late March 2020, Kaski District Police entered the home of and arbitrarily arrested Pastor Keshav in front of his family; authorities did not provide any arrest warrant. Earlier in the evening, Pastor Keshav received a call from a man requesting prayer for his ill wife; Pastor Keshav invited the man to his home to pray together but instead opened the door to a group of four police officers who then detained him.

The reason provided for Pastor Keshav’s arrest is that he had been recorded during one of his church services calling upon his congregants to join together in a prayer for the end of COVID-19 in Jesus’ name; authorities claimed that Pastor Keshav had purposefully misled the general public by allegedly providing false information about the COVID-19 disease and claiming that Jesus can stop the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to note that during his church service, while Pastor Keshav did pray for Jesus to deliver healing upon those afflicted, he did not in any way discourage congregants from also seeking out necessary medical treatment in the case that they became ill. Regardless, Nepali authorities detained Pastor Keshav for an initial two weeks before releasing him on 8 April on a bail of 5,000 Rupees (≈ USD $42).

Shortly after his release from police custody, Pastor Keshav was promptly re-arrested under new charges of “outraging religious feelings” and “attempting to convert” people, both which are prohibited in Nepal Penal Code articles 156 and 158, respectively. Authorities baselessly claimed that Keshav was using prayer against COVID-19 as a means to convert individuals to Christianity. Pastor Keshav’s new bail was set at 500,000 Rupees (≈ USD $4,200) on 19 April 2020. As Keshav was unable to pay his new bail, he returned to prison; though his wife posted his bail nearly a month later on 13 May and he was released, Pastor Keshav was arrested for a third time and transported in a grueling 72-hour journey to Dolpa for detention in the most isolated of Nepal’s districts.

During his third period of detention – ranging from his initial third arrest, transportation to Dolpa, and subsequent detention – Pastor Keshav had his hands chained behind his back for long lengths of time and was provided with only meager access to food. Due to COVID-19 mitigation measures, neither Keshav’s family nor his legal counsel were permitted to visit with him in detention. Authorities detained Pastor Keshav in Dolpa for 99 days before releasing him on 30 June 2020.

In November 2021, Jubilee Campaign received news that Pastor Keshav was found guilty of his multiple charges and that he has been transferred to a prison to carry out his sentence; it is still unclear what Keshav’s prison sentence will be, though it could range from between one and five years in prison and a hefty fine.

Latest Updates:

  • On 13 July 2022: Jubilee Campaign received news that Jumla High Court formally sentenced Pastor Keshav to one year imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 Nepalese rupees  for allegedly forcing people to convert to Christianity. Authorities have not yet re-detained Pastor Keshav who had previously been released on bail, but his arrest is expected to occur soon. Pastor Keshav plans to appeal the decision at the Supreme Court.
  • On 23 June 2022 the District court of Pokhara found Pastor Keshav innocent of all charges.
  • On 30 January 2022, Jubilee Campaign and 17 organizations submitted a joint letter to Nepalese Attorney General Mr. Khamma Bahadur Khati regarding Pastor Keshav’s case:
    • “While we welcome his release on bail by the High Court, we remain concerned that the charges against him at the District Court Kaski for the same offense that have not been dropped yet. We are also concerned about the discriminatory treatment of Pastor Keshav throughout the process.”
    • “During the recent Democracy Summit in the US, the Prime Minister of Nepal Mr. Sher Bahadur Deuba affirmed Nepal’s ‘democratic and inclusive’ Constitution. We therefore respectfully call on Your Excellency Khamma Bahadur Khati to uphold the Nepali Constitution, its secular values and international human rights commitments, by dropping all charges laid against Pastor Keshav in Kaski District court and ensure that High Court Jumla interprets its laws in line with Nepal’s human rights commitments. We also call on the Government of Nepal to review the constitutionality of its Criminal Code and ensure law enforcement act in the spirit of the constitution of Nepal and its international human rights obligations. We respectfully urge the Government of Nepal repeal its anti-conversion and blasphemy laws in line with Nepal’s obligation under international human rights law, the Article and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief’s recommendations to ensure they are not used to target an individual for their religion or belief.”
  • On 19 December 2021, Pastor Keshav’s bail request was accepted and he was released on Christmas Eve.
  • On 13 December 2021, Jubilee Campaign received the following news updates from our colleagues working on Pastor Keshav’s case:
    • Pastor Keshav’s wife has clarified that she wishes to continue with Govinda as the lawyer.
    • Govinda explained that he is soon to file a bail application for Pastor Keshav, and that he belives it will have a favorable outcome. He anticipates that Pastor Keshav will be released within the next few weeks.
    • Pastor Keshav has been convicted in two courts. In the first court, he was ordered to pay a fine; in the second court he has been sentenced to two years in prison, which is the decision Govinda is planning on filing a bail application for.
    • However, other lawyers on the case have suggested that the bail application and acquisition of funding for court fees and travel fees may take some time – especially considering the holiday season – and they expect action to be taken in January instead.
    • The entirety of Pastor Keshav’s legal team, including Govinda, have clarified that they are not in fear of physical danger from Hindu extremists for their advocacy on Keshav’s case.
    • Pastor Keshav’s case marks the first official incident in which an individual has been convicted and sentenced according to Nepal’s “anti-conversion law”; this is a concerning trend and requires international advocacy so that there are no future similar cases.
    • It is believed that the ‘evidence’ against Pastor Keshav includes a video on his phone of him conducting a Christian baptism of a former Hindu, as well as some witness statements that Pastor Keshav has engaged in evangelism. However, there is no evidence suggesting that he engaged in forceful conversions, only sharing his faith and encouraging Christian conversion. Regardless, proselytism is illegal under Nepal domestic law.
  • 23 November 2021: Regarding Pastor Keshav’s conviction, Senior Counsel Govinda Bandi and Christian Solidarity Worldwide stated the following:
    • “While the conviction by the district court is a baseless one, there is further travesty of justice as Pastor Keshav was immediately arrested and put in prison, which is in clear violation of the rules of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). The authorities cannot do such a thing as his trial is still ongoing before the court. Under the CPC, this is a bailable offence and he has a right to appeal against the decision of the court and until he has appealed, and the case has not concluded, they cannot put him in prison.” – Senior Counsel Govinda Bandi
    • “We are deeply concerned by the decision of the Dolpa District Court to convict Pastor Keshav, which sets a worrying judicial precedent. This is a severe encroachment on the fundamental right to speak about one’s religion or belief, which now risks being interpreted as an attempt at converting others. The arrest and imprisonment of Pastor Keshav immediately after his hearing clearly reflects the disregard by the authorities to established legal procedure. The misguided handling of Pastor Keshav case by the state since his first arrest in March 2020 has thrown a cloud of doubt over Nepal’s willingness and ability to protecting the rights of religious minorities. We urge the authorities to reconsider their decision and call on the international community to encourage Nepal to uphold the right to freedom of religion or belief as articulated under Article 18 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.” – Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive, Christian Solidarity Worldwide
  • 18 July 2020: 23 human rights and religious freedom advocacy organizations, including Jubilee Campaign, sent a joint letter to Nepal’s Attorney General Mr. Agni Kharel, calling for the acquittal of Pastor Keshav. See below excerpts of the letter:
    • “In summary, a total of three charges have been filed against Pastor Keshav. 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. By first denying the bail applications and then subsequently set exorbitant bail amounts set, are a denial of justice and due process and highlight the failure of the rule of law.”
    • “It is in the spirit of respect and commitment to international obligations that we urge you as the Attorney General of Nepal, to reaffirm Nepal’s commitment to upholding freedom of religion or belief and direct that the wrongful charges against Pastor Acharya be dropped completely. 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 or belief of Christians and other religious minorities for simply expressing basic tenets of their belief.”
  • 15 May 2020: Pastor Keshav’s defense attorney, Senior Counsel Govinda Bandi, stated the following:
    • “[Pastor Keshav’s] repeated arrest is a very worrying sign of the trajectory of religious freedom in this country. The police are clearly acting outside the scope of the constitution and without any regard to the rules of criminal procedure. There seems to be a concerted effort to use the draconian provisions in the Penal Code to target him that will also threaten the wider minority community with penal sanctions for practicing their religion or belief. Furthermore, the whole allegation against him, is forged on unfounded and prejudiced allegations. This is without a doubt a targeted prosecution and a travesty of our justice system.”
  • 15 May 2020: Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas stated the following:
    • “We are deeply concerned about the handling of this case and the precedent that it is setting. Nepal is seeing a growing trend in state-backed intolerance towards religious minorities who should be able to practice, promote and propagate their religion. The penal law has clearly emboldened state actors to behave in a biased way. We urge the authorities to re-evaluate their actions and drop all charges against Pastor Keshav. CSW also calls on the international community to encourage Nepal, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, to respect its international commitment to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”