A Nepali court has found four Christians guilty of ‘violence’ and ‘witchcraft’ against a severely mentally ill woman whom they sought to heal, even though she testified in court in their favour, saying she was now better. The four are sentenced to five years in prison. A fifth Christian, Rupa Thapa, was found not guilty and released after the hearing in the District Court of Salyan – a district in western Nepal.
The five Christians had been imprisoned since July for witchcraft, forceful imprisonment and violence towards the woman, despite her husband also saying they are innocent.
Ruplal Pariyar and his wife Ganga, Lali Pun, Bimkali Budha and Rupa Thapa were arrested by the police on July 21. Alongside the other charges, they were questioned about trying to convert their alleged victim at each of their court hearings, though this was not on the charge sheet.
The arrests followed an incident on June 6 involving Seti Pariyar who was sent by her father-in-law, who used to be a Christian, to a local church for healing prayer from apparently ‘being possessed by demons’.
Witnesses report that Pariyar left the church before the prayer service was over. She was later found shouting and self-harming in a nearby forest, and taken back to her home.
More than a month later, a local businessman gave an account of the incident to the local media and, on the basis of that media report, a Bhisma Pariyar filed a complaint against the five who were then arrested.
Rev. Mukunda Sharma, a member of the Nepal Religious Liberty Forum, heard about the case and visited Salyan in October. To help him form an appeal, he met the five imprisoned Christians as well as local lawyers and other Christian leaders. An appeal team was created to advocate for the release of the prisoners with district governing officials, which appeared at first to be successful - local bureaucrats and politicians assured them that the five would be released.
Meanwhile the alleged victim, Seti Pariyar, and her husband testified at the district court to say the five did not act forcefully or inhumanely towards her. She later testified at the church that she was completely healed because of the prayer in the church.
Local church leaders report that they think the five were ‘trapped’, targeted as minority Christians.
The sentences come in the context of the fact that last year, Nepal introduced a new Constitution which outlaws anything perceived to be proselytism or ‘evangelizing.
However, the first case about freedom of religion under this new Constitution was dropped earlier this month. It had been against eight Christians, in education, who distributed a pamphlet about Jesus in a Christian school after trauma counselling for the children after Nepal’s massive earthquake.
The Nepal Cabinet has today (22 Dec) announced that there will be no public holiday on Christmas Day. Many believe growing Hindu nationalism in their much-bigger neighbour to the south, India, is behind decisions made in Nepal.
Nepal church sources told WWM that a home-made bomb device was left in the compound of Calvary Church, Dhangadhi on 17 Dec. Police, who disposed of it, do not know who left it.
A delegation of church leaders has asked the Nepali Home Ministry to provide security during Christmas.