By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
THUMPU, BHUTAN (BosNewsLife)-- A pastor who was jailed in Bhutan on charges linked to his Christian activities remained free Tuesday, January 27, after at least some charges were dropped, BosNewsLife learned.
"Praise the Lord, God answered our prayers," Pastor Tandin Wangyal wrote in a text message, ten months following his initial detention. "A million thanks for your prayer support!," he added in the message, published by well-informed advocacy group Open Doors.
Wangyal's near four year sentence was reduced by a local court to a 28 months prison term which he does not have to serve when paying a bail of roughly $1,523 in local currency, some trial observers said.
Open Doors cautioned however that it remains unclear whether all charges will be dropped. Fellow detained Pastor Mon Thapa, also known as Lobzang, was already released from his 28-month prison sentence after paying the court’s fine of 98,800 Ngultrum (US$1,630).
Wangyal and Thapa were detained in March after organizing a three-day seminar at a house church
in Samtse District, attended by dozens of Christians from neighboring towns.
They were charched with organizing a "religious event" and showing a film without permission from authorities, BosNewsLife reported at the time. Additionally the men were accused of collecting "illegal funds". During his four nights at the Samtse Central Jail, Tandin reportedly described experiencing "intimacy with God" that he had not experienced before.
"He became closer to God, as he spent most of his time in prayer," a fellow Christian said in published remarks.
"On September 15th at 3 am, while praying, he had a vision. In it he saw an angel leading him by the hand. The door of the prison cell suddenly opened and he walked out. That same afternoon, the vision came true: at 3:45 pm, he was released."
Yet, a long legal battle followed, recalled the pastor in a separate message. "Obviously, I am worried about my wife and three sons. It's been almost a year-long battle, and I know how much this has brought challenges to us," he wrote.
"My flesh and spirit are in a constant battle. I continue to implore your unceasing prayer support for me, my wife and three sons, as well as for my mother Ruth, who will be greatly impacted by the court's decision," he told supporters.
Yet, "Despite this ordeal, God has been very gracious to us in many ways," he added, thanking groups and the worldwide Christian community. "I believe that...I will be a free man."
Bhutan’s government has denied wrongdoing, with a minister saying religion played "no part" in the pastors’ detention.
However Christians have linked the detention of the pastors to Bhutan’s perceived crackdown on Christianity and other non-Buddhist religions. Church buildings are illegal and Christians face difficulties in receiving free education, according to several Christian sources.
"Proselytism", the word used for evangelism, and incitement to convert are illegal in the tiny, remote and impoverished kingdom nestling in the Himalayas between its powerful neighbours, India and China.
Bhutanese who convert to Christianity can lose their citizenship in the heavily Buddhist nation.