By BosNewsLife Asia Service
KATHMANDU, NEPAL (BosNewsLife)-- A Christian pastor was free Wednesday, September 10, after spending nearly two years behind bars in Nepal "for eating beef" amid growing pressure on Christians in the predominantly Hindu nation, rights activists confirmed.
Pastor Chhedar Lhomi Bhote, 37, was detained in October 2012 when a mob of Hindu militants torched his home in north-east Nepal, Christians said.
After discovering he had eaten beef, angry residents reportedly said they saw him "killing a cow", an act considered a criminal offence in Nepal.
"The pastor, who is the leader of a small church community, was brought to court and sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment," said advocacy and aid group Barnabas Fund, which closely monitored the case.
"His subsequent release is thought to have been prompted by petitions to the Nepali government and the work of several Christian Non-Governmental Organizations" Barnabas Fund added.
Rights activists stressed the pastor and his family were living in a remote area, near the Tibetan Autonomous Region, where it is legal for non-Hindus to eat beef. "But to do so is socially unacceptable in Hindu-majority Nepal, because of the sacred status that Hinduism affords to cows," Barnabas Fund told BosNewsLife.
Although Hindu-majority Nepal claims to be a secular democracy, it was a Hindu kingdom until 2006. "Christians today face pressure from Hindu nationalists who see the growth of the Church as a threat," Barnabas Fund claimed.
In one recent incident, Hindus reportedly pressured police to detain 40 Protestant Christians, on charges of "forcibly converting Hindus" to Christianity. Most of the Christians, including church leaders, were soon released following their arrest in Boudha, near the capital Kathmandu, Christian said.
The incident underscored a wider crackdown, according to activists. "Nepali Christians, many of whom are converts from Hinduism, face social ostracism and, occasionally, discrimination and violence," Barnabas Fund said.
Christians comprise just over 1 percent of the Himalayan nation's roughly 31-million population, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).