By BosNewsLife Asia Service
KATHMANDU, NEPAL (BosNewsLife)-- Four Nepali Christians who were sentenced in December 2016 to five years imprisonment for "violence and witchcraft" after praying for a mentally ill woman have been released, rights activists confirmed Friday, October 6.
Lali Pun, Bimkali Budha, Ruplal Pariyar and his wife Ganga, were initially found guilty at the District Court in Nepal's western district of Salyan, though the woman testified in court that their prayer "had ultimately resulted in her healing," trial observers said. A fifth Christian, Rupa Thapa, was found not guilty.
"Thankfully, their sentences were recently overturned, and they have all been released," said Christian advocacy group Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC) in a statement to BosNewsLife.
The five were detained in July 2016 on charges of "witchcraft, forceful imprisonment and violence," despite an additional testimony from the healed woman's husband confirming their innocence, Christians explained.
Besides being interrogated about these allegations, the believers were also asked at each court hearing whether they had made attempts to convert their alleged victim.
The mentally ill woman, Seti, had been sent by her father-in-law to a local church for prayer amid fears she was possessed by demons," Christians with knowledge of the situation said. Witnesses reported that Seti left the church before the end of the prayer service, and was later found shouting and inflicting harm to herself in a nearby forest.
More than a month later, a local businessman spoke about the incident to local media. Based on media reports, a complaint was filed against the five Christians, who were then detained and sentenced under Nepal's new constitution which outlaws "proselytism," the word used for converting people to another religion. "Local church leaders announced at the time that they believed the five had been targeted because they were minority Christians," VOMC recalled.
Nepal’s new constitution is part of the transition the country began in 2008 from the world's only Hindu monarchy to a secular, multiparty, constitutional republic. But it effectively limits activities of devoted Christians and missionaries, critics say. VOMC "thanks the Lord" for the recent release of the imprisoned believers but urges "prayers" from its supporters for the Christians that they "will be strengthened as they recover from the ordeal."
Although Christianity is considered a minority religion in Nepal, "we can be assured from God's Word that these believers will be further unified and strengthened through the power of prayer," added VOMC which monitors the situation. "Despite any threats they may receive from those who oppose their faith, pray that they will continue to be courageous in their ministry service," VOMC stressed in a message to supporters.
The rights group said it hopes that "their 'labor of love' will be mightily used to extend God's Kingdom in Nepal."