Myanmar charges preacher for defying virus ban on services

(Reuters) - A Myanmar preacher who posted a sermon online saying Christians were immune to the coronavirus will face charges along with three other people for organising services in defiance of a ban on mass gatherings, local authorities said on Wednesday.

Pastor David Lah talks in a YouTube video as he prays during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Yangon, Myanmar April 1, 2020 in this screen grab taken from a video. Child of God Youtube channel via REUTERS

The ban took effect on March 13 and the Yangon Region COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response Committee said in a statement that David Lah and two other pastors had held services after that in Yangon and would be charged alongside one member of the congregation.

David Lah could not be reached for comment.

Ye Win Aung, the local government administrator for Yangon’s Mayangone township, said he had been instructed by the committee to file the charges. The disaster management law under which charges have been filed could lead to a three-year jail term.

About 20 people connected to gatherings in early April later tested positive for the virus, Ye Win Aung said, and those included David Lah.

Reuters was unable to confirm this independently and a Health Ministry spokesman did not answer calls seeking comment.

Police in Yangon confirmed that charges had been filed against four people for holding religious gatherings at two police stations in the city.

Christian and Muslim religious events elsewhere in the world have been triggers for the spread of the virus that has infected nearly 2 million people and killed nearly 130,000 worldwide.

Myanmar, which has reported 74 cases of the virus and four deaths, is a Buddhist-majority nation but Christians comprise about 6% of the population.

In a sermon posted online in late March, David 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.”

Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Alison Williams