Authorities in Myanmar arrested a Canadian pastor Wednesday for holding a service in violation of a ban on mass gatherings during the coronavirus outbreak, after which dozens of people became infected.
David Lah, a 43-year-old minister who was born in Myanmar, held a gathering for his congregation on April 7 in Yangon’s Mayangone township during which he told followers that their faith in Christianity would protect them from the virus, according to video of the event.
Lah later tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, as did at least 80 of his congregants.
Myanmar, which has so far confirmed 193 cases and six deaths, declared a ban on mass gatherings in mid-March.
On Wednesday, after spending two weeks in quarantine at the City Hotel Yangon, Lah was brought before Mayangone Township Court Judge Moe Swe where he was charged along with three others under the Natural Disaster Management Law, which carries a maximum punishment of three years in prison.
“The Mayangone Township Police Station has charged U David Lah aka Saw David Lah,” Moe Swe told members of the media after the hearing.
“We have requested the court remand David Lah during the required police investigation. Today, the court decided to place him in custody at Insein Prison from May 20 to June 3.”
Agence France-Presse quoted a police officer, who declined to be named, as saying Lah’s arrest “was delayed because he was recovering from the disease.”
The three other people charged in connection with organizing the April gathering—Christian priest Saw Kwe Wah, Saw Regeandy, and Wai Tun—are all recuperating from infection and have yet to face the court.
After at least 80 people were confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19 from attending services held by Lah, authorities began testing anyone who had close contact with the pastor. Among those who tested negative was Vice President Henry Van Thio, who is a Christian and had attended a meeting with Lah.
A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, which handles the country’s foreign affairs, trade and development portfolios, told RFA on Wednesday that the agency “is aware of the arrest and detention of a Canadian citizen in Myanmar.”
“Canadian officials are in contact with the affected individual and are providing consular services,” the spokesperson said in a statement, adding that no further information could be disclosed due to the country’s Privacy Act.
Christians make up around six percent of Buddhist-majority Myanmar’s population.
Reported by Thant Zin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.