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.

After reading a media report of the incident, a complaint was made by Bhisma Pariyar. This led to the hearing and following conviction in District Court, despite the mentally ill woman and her husband testifying that the four did not act in a forceful or abusive manner. The woman also testified that she was healed because of their prayers.

This wrongful imprisonment was further indication of Nepal’s continued backslide on issues of religious freedom. Earlier this year, the Nepali parliament passed a new law criminalizing conversions to non-Hindu religions. The parliament passed the law despite Article 26 (3) of Nepal’s 2015 constitution already restricting religious conversion and expression.

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