World

Canadian preacher remanded in Myanmar on charges of defying restrictions on large gatherings

A Canadian preacher who said Christians were immune to the coronavirus and then contracted it himself has been remanded in a Myanmar court after facing charges over organizing services in defiance of restrictions on large public gatherings. He'll be imprisoned and return to court June 3.

David Lah had said Christians wouldn't get COVID-19, then he did

Canadian preacher David Lah, who is accused of organizing prayers in defiance of restrictions on gatherings imposed by the government during a lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak, arrives at a court in Yangon, Myanmar, on Wednesday. (Myat Thu Kyaw/Reuters)

A preacher who said Christians were immune to the coronavirus and then contracted it himself appeared in a Myanmar court on Wednesday to face charges over organizing services in defiance of restrictions on large public gatherings.

David Lah, a Canadian citizen of Myanmarese origin, and another man, Myanmar national Wai Tun, face a maximum three-year prison term under the disaster management law over church services held in the commercial capital of Yangon in early April.

In a sermon posted online in late March, Lah had told followers: "If you hear the sermon of God, the virus will never come to you. I declare it with the soul of Jesus Christ."

Judge Moe Swe told journalists after the hearing at a Yangon court that Lah would be remanded in Insein prison until June 3 while police continue their investigations.

Lah had previously been taken to hospital and was then under quarantine at a hotel. Wai Tun was not present in court.

About 20 people who participated in the gatherings in early April subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus, an official said at the time.

Lah talks in a YouTube video as he prays during the COVID-19 outbreak in Yangon April 1. (Child of God/YouTube/Reuters)

This led to a cluster of 67 cases, Thar Tun Kyaw, a spokesperson for Myanmar's Health Ministry, told Reuters on Wednesday.

Almost 5 million infected

The Yangon Region COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response Committee said in a statement that Lah and two other pastors had held services after restrictions were introduced on March 13.

The coronavirus has infected almost five million people globally and killed more than 322,000. More than half the coronavirus cases in South Korea, at the beginning of the outbreak there, were linked to gatherings at a church.

Myanmar, which has reported 193 cases of the virus and six deaths, is a Buddhist-majority nation but Christians comprise about six per cent of the population. The country is also known as Burma.

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