Four Nepali Christians sentenced last year to five years in prison for “violence and witchcraft”, after praying for a mentally ill woman, have been released after their sentences were overturned.
In a statement, the Federation of National Christian, Nepal (FNCN) thanked the court for “setting free our innocent people”, and said it would continue to support the Christians and their families following their release.
Lali Pun, Bimkali Budha, Ruplal Pariyar and his wife Ganga were found guilty in December 2016 at the District Court in Salyan – a district in western Nepal – even though the woman had testified in court that their prayer had healed her. A fifth Christian, Rupa Thapa, was found not guilty.
The five had been imprisoned since July 2016 for “witchcraft, forceful imprisonment and violence” towards the woman, despite her husband also saying they were innocent.
Alongside the other charges, they were questioned at each of their court hearings about trying to convert their alleged victim, though this was not on the charge sheet.
The mentally ill woman, Seti Pariyar, had been 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 reported 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, Bhisma Pariyar filed a complaint against the five, who were then arrested.
Local church leaders said at the time they believed the five had been targeted because they were minority Christians.
In 2015, Nepal had introduced a new Constitution which outlawed proselytism. Eight Nepali Christians were the first charged under the new law, for distributing a pamphlet about Jesus in a Christian school in Charikot, while helping children through the trauma of the 2015 earthquake. The charges were eventually dropped.