Kathmandu, September 21, 2019: Hindu extremist threats have driven a pastor in Nepal into hiding following a leak onto social media of a restricted audience-interview he gave on his journey to Christ, sources said.
Pastor Sukdev Giri of Trinity Fellowship church in Chitwan District has received death threats, he said. He has changed his phone number, but his family and friends are also receiving threatening calls, he told Morning Star News.
In a sign of how the Himalayan country has become increasingly radicalized, Pastor Giri, 59, has been unable to return home from ministry travels since a video of his comments hit YouTube in mid-August.
“It is the first time a Christian [in Nepal] has been targeted for sharing [on social and other media] about his past religion and introduction into Christianity,” legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom’s allied attorney in Nepal, Ganesh Sreshta, told Morning Star News.
“It is turning out to be a high-profile issue, with Hindu fundamentalist groups linked to prominent political leaders taking interest in this video.”
The video shot in March at the International Christian Media Workers Summit in Kathmandu, where Pastor Giri was one of the speakers on a panel, was available only to Christian audiences until a Nepalese Christian woman abroad posted it on YouTube.
During the panel presentation on advice for Christian media workers, Nepalese radio journalist Sunil Raj Lama asked Pastor Giri to talk more about belief systems in Nepal.
“It is not something I would discuss with anybody just anywhere, but his question was very genuine,” Pastor Giri told Morning Star News. “Although I had cautioned Lama to edit the video and not to circulate it outside the Christian circle, the [Christian] persons who were the first to watch it on a private channel insisted that, ‘It is a hard truth – people need to hear it.”’
The unidentified Nepalese woman abroad who had access to the private channel posted the video on YouTube on Aug. 11, and the flood of hostile comments began.
“Highly abusive and derogatory words were used against me,” Pastor Giri said. “Calls also started. And I immediately discarded my old SIM card and kept the phone away for some days. I have dedicated my entire time to travel, as my family feels it is unsafe for me to stay in my hometown [undisclosed], in Chitwan. I’m currently busy with my ministry work in other parts of Nepal.”
In the video, the pastor spoke about how, before he became a Christian, he noticed sin and corruption in the world and wondered about their roots. The gospel helped answer that question.
People now mistakenly look at him as a Christian who hates Hinduism, he said. “I don’t hate anyone – I just want to have an honest conversation about my encounter with Christ,” Pastor Giri said.
He told the conference how when he was 12 years old, he went to a church in Kathmandu where some missionaries from Sri Lanka were preaching. “There, I heard about the love of God and the simplicity and humility of Jesus,” he said.
“It was so overwhelming to me. As a boy, I was thinking of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. It was hard to digest.”
He read the New Testament in three months, he said.
“Jesus seemed very approachable, simple and near. I accepted Him right then,” he said.
In social media comments, many “hateful, venomous words” against him have followed, he said, and a mob recently gathered at his farm in Chitwan asking his wife and parents about his whereabouts, he said.
When he consulted a regional pastors’ fellowship as to whether he should file a police complaint about the hateful comments or meet with police officials, they advised against it, he said.
“They also had received phone calls from people asking my whereabouts,” Pastor Giri said. “I have been told that since Hindu fanatics and police are already looking for me, it is not advisable to meet them.”
His neighborhood in Chitwan District has a high population of strong Brahmins, he said. “My wife feels very unsafe and worried for me,” he told Morning Star News.
The YouTube video received more than 750,000 views before it was removed, and since then a video critical of the pastor by a Facebook user under the name of Abhishek Joshi has gone viral, he said.
In the video Joshi calls him “…a son of Hindu saints who now fell in the hands of Adam and Eve.” “You were born in a Hindu family and have a Hindu name,” Joshi says. “Grew up being a Hindu person, carrying a Bible for a few years and changing your religion to Christianity doesn’t give you the right to bash Hindu gods.”
Pastor Giri said he hoped that he would at least be given the opportunity to fully explain his views. “But there is so much hate built up against me already that Facebook user Abhishek Joshi and a few others are picking up verses from the Bible and interpreting it wrongly,” he said.
“I want to tell them that it is not about two religions or finding fault with each other.” He is simply trying to recount his personal journey, not critique religions, he said.
Sreshta, ADF’s allied attorney in Nepal, said Christians who were once primarily hit with false accusations of “forcible conversion” are now being charged with preaching or speaking about their faith publicly.
Article 26 of Nepal’s constitution prohibits religious conversions, he noted. “There is a lot of impact of Indian media channels on Nepal’s Hindu population,” he added.
An increase in persecution of Christians in Nepal began after a new criminal code was passed in October 2017, which took effect in August 2018.
“Many Christians are restricting prayer services to closed doors of their homes, as they feel insecure to expose or disclose their faith in public,” Sreshta said. “Article 18 proscribes discrimination on grounds of religion, caste, race etc., but it’s only on paper and can nowhere be seen implemented in case of Christians.”
By criminalizing conversions, Nepal has infringed on the fundamental freedom of religion or belief which is guaranteed not only by its constitution but also secured by several international covenants, according to ADF-International.
“Nepal’s constitution prohibits the attempt of religious conversion,” according to an ADF press statement. “At the same time, Nepal is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, an international treaty explicitly protecting freedom of religion and expression.”