Canadian pastor held in Myanmar for flouting gathering rule

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Myanmar Canadian Pastor

Canadian pastor David Lah, covered with face shield and mask, is escorted by police upon arrival at a township court for his first court appearance Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Yangon, Myanmar. Pastor Lah attended a court hearing related to charges filed against him for allegedly organizing public Christian activities in Yangon back in April, after the regional government banned mass gatherings in mid-March to curb the spread of the coronavirus.(AP Photo/Thein Zaw)

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A Canadian pastor charged in Myanmar with violating a ban on large gatherings made his first court appearance after being released from a quarantine reportedly because he had contracted COVID-19.

David Lah was charged in mid-April and faces possible punishment of up to three years in prison, a fine, or both. The law was invoked in mid-March to combat the spread of the coronavirus, and the charge involves a religion gathering Lah held on April 7 in Yangon.

The judge at Wednesday’s hearing ordered Lah’s detention for 15 days pending a possible trial while police continue their investigations. Lah made no public comment.

The evidence against Lah comes from videos he posted online of his own sermons. One video purportedly showed him making false claims that Christians were immune from contracting the coronavirus. Another clip that caused outrage in the predominantly Buddhist country had him saying that the teachings of Buddhist monks are responsible for making people “sinful.”

Lah has publicized his globe-trotting evangelical activities widely on social media such as Facebook and YouTube.

Myanmar health authorities do not release the names of patients with COVID-19, but numerous reports in Myanmar media citing police and local officials say Lah tested positive for the virus and was hospitalized. When he tested negative, he was discharged and then quarantined, in line with health regulations.

The backlash against Lah has extended to the country’s Christian community, who make up about 6% of the population, after a photo was circulated online of the country’s Christian vice president, Henry Van Thio, meeting with Lah in early February.