A pastor from Nepal reportedly faces imprisonment with fines for allegedly making COVID-19 statements that went viral online.

The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) said that Abundant Harvest Church Pastor Keshav Archarya was sentenced on Nov. 30 to two years imprisonment due to social media posts on COVID-19. Archarya was also fined in violation of Nepal's anti-conversion law.

"A court in #Nepal sentences an evangelical pastor to two years in jail and a fine of US$166 under the anti-conversion law after a YouTube video of him went viral on social media where he said that #COVID19 could be healed through #Christian prayer," UCA News tweeted on Sunday, December 5.

Accordingly, Archarya was arrested by Kaski district police due to the YouTube video where he invoked the name of Jesus in commanding the COVID-19 virus to "die."

"Hey, corona--you go and die. May all your deeds be destroyed by the power of the Lord Jesus. I rebuke you, corona, in the name of Lord Jesus Christ. By the power or the ruler of this Creation, I rebuke you," Acharya was quoted in saying in the controversial video.

"By the power in the name of Lord Jesus Christ, corona, go away and die," he stressed.

But Archarya said during his arrest that he did not upload the video, though it took a month before he was released from prison, and only after posting bail. He was then arrested again, however, without warrant. Acharya's second arrest was said to be for violation of the anti-conversion law and for distributing Christian tracts in Nepal's Dolpa region.

The Dolpa district court then sentenced Acharya with two years imprisonment after finding him guilty of proselytizing on Nov. 22.

UCA News explained that Nepal's constitution adopted the law on proselytization in 2015, during which the country declared itself as following a secular democracy having transitioned from a Hindu kingdom. The Nepal Constitution's Article 26 (3) legally punishes any person that "shall behave, act or make others act to disturb public law and order situation or convert a person of one religion to another or disturb the religion of other people."

Subsequent to the changes in Nepal's constitution, the government also amended the country's Penal Code three years later to criminalize religious conversion such that those found guilty of it or of encouraging others to convert to another religion would be imprisoned to a maximum of five years and be fined to not more than $416 or 50,000 rupees.

Acharya's sentence then was only light in so far as the punishment stated in the law and its corresponding fine being 20,000 rupees. Many Christian groups nonetheless condemned the court's conviction on his case.

For one, International Christian Concern Regional Manager for South Asia William Stark raised concerns on Acharya's sentence out of local authorities just finding a way to get him behind bars for simply being a Christian pastor. Local authorities, Stark disclosed, have been known to target Christians and their communities since the Nepal Constitution was amended in 2015.

"For more than a year, authorities in Dopla district have seemed bent on convicting Pastor Acharya of something and punishing him for simply being a Christian pastor," Stark said.

"Today, Nepalese Christians again have seen their fears realized. Nepal's sweeping anti-conversion law must be repealed if religious freedom is truly a right to be enjoyed by the country's citizens," he stressed.