Canadian preacher held in Myanmar for breaking virus ban

Facing the law: Lah (centre) being led into the Mayangone Township Court in Yangon. — AFP

MYANMAR police arrested a Canadian pastor for allegedly holding a service in defiance of a coronavirus ban on mass gatherings – after which he and dozens of his followers and their families became infected.

The South-East Asian nation has so far only confirmed 193 cases and six deaths from the disease, although experts fear that low numbers tested mean that the true figures could be far higher.

Myanmar-born preacher David Lah, 43, is based out of Toronto, Canada, but often visits his motherland to give sermon tours.

Myanmar introduced a ban on mass gatherings in mid-March.

Footage emerged in early April showing Lah leading services in which he claimed Christians would be spared from the pandemic.

“If people hold the Bible and Jesus in their hearts, the disease will not come in,” he proclaimed in one video to a roomful of faithful followers.“The only person who can cure and give peace in this pandemic is Jesus.”

Shortly afterwards, Lah tested positive for coronavirus and figures released by the government showed that dozens of confirmed cases could be traced back to his followers.Myo Gyi, lead singer of Myanmar’s most famous rock band Iron Cross, was among those infected.

After emerging from quarantine, Lah was arrested on Wednesday morning and taken to a Yangon court, where he was charged with violating the Natural Disaster and Management Law.

He could face three years behind bars if convicted.

“The police procedure was delayed as he was recovering from the disease,” said a police officer.

Three others would also face charges in connection with the same events after they recuperated, he added.

The scandal even touched Myanmar’s Christian vice-president Henry Van Thio and his family, who had attended an earlier service with Lah in February, although they later tested negative. — AFP

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