“We are really thankful to all who prayed for Nepal. I feel very happy to have our brothers and sisters freed. This has raised trust in justice and democracy,” said Pastor Tanka Subedi, founding member and chair of Dharmik Chautari Nepal, Chair of Religious Liberty Forum Nepal (RLF) and Senior Pastor of Family of God Church in a statement to Global Christian News.
The Charikot District court at Dolakha in Nepal on 6 December acquitted the seven men and one woman of all charges against them and called for the bail money to be returned to all eight. The written verdict is expected in a month’s time.
The eight were arrested following trauma counselling sessions conducted for the 2015 earthquake-affected children
by Teach Nepal, a non-governmental organisation (NGO). The sessions were held at the Modern Nepal School and Mount Valley Academy on 8 and 9 June 2016. The Teach Nepal staff distributed a small gift pack to the children, which included a 23-page comic book which explains the story of Jesus.
Seven of them were arrested on 9 July, including five Teach Nepal staff and principals of both schools, after complaints from parents and local politicians.
Prakash Pradhan, Bimal Shahi, Banita Dangol, Balkrishna Rai, Philip Tamang, Kiran Dahal, Bhimsen Tiwari and Shakti Pakhrin were charged under Article 26 (3) which states: ‘Noperson shall, in the exercise of the right conferred by this Article…convert another person from one religion to another or any act or conduct that may jeopardize other’s religion and such act shall be punishable by law.’
The Christians were held in police custody for nine days before being released on bail. Christian leaders protested strong after the arrests and the Federation of National Christian, Nepal (FNCN), on 15 June wrote to the Home Minister of Nepal, Bahadur Basnet, calling for them to be released. The FNCN also urged the government and other relevant bodies to maintain social and religious harmony, and to stop persecuting innocent people without any proof.
Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of the Christian Solidarity Worldwide UK welcomed the release of the eight: “We join our voices with civil society in Nepal in urging the government of Nepal to amend Section 26 of the new constitution and ensure that it – along with the draft penal code – guarantees full freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression. The right to freedom of religion or belief is of particular importance in Nepal as the country recently made the transition from a Hindu monarchy to a secular democratic republic.”
Tanka said, “I hope the government will take the matter seriously and change the proposed bill so that it does not hinder the rights of the minority.”
According to Tanka, apart from the eight acquitted, there are seven more Christians who have court cases against them. “We expect Nepal government to respect the right of minority religious groups and give justice to another seven people who have court cases against them because they are Christians. Among them five are still in prison and we want them to be released as well,” said Tanka in his concluding statement to GCN.