Pastor faces three years in jail for defying Myanmar’s stay-at-home orders
A Christian pastor and three others in Myanmar face three years in jail for organising services in defiance of a ban on large gatherings in the Southeast Asian country due to COVID-19.
Pastor David Lah, who holds a Canadian passport, and three others in Yangon city were charged under the 2013 Natural Disaster Management Law, an offence which is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years and a possible fine, according to the U.S.-based Christian persecution watchdog International Christian Concern.
According to the Yangon Region COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response Committee, Lah and two other pastors held services after a ban on large gatherings was imposed in Yangon on the 13th of March, and the other accused is a member of the congregation, Reuters reported.
In a sermon posted online in late March, Pastor Lah said, “If you hear the sermon of God, the virus will never come to you, I declare it with the soul of Jesus Christ.” Weeks later, about twenty people connected to his gatherings tested positive for the novel coronavirus, including Pastor Lah and a famous Myanmar rock star named Myo Gyi.
According to CBC News, on the afternoon of the 7th of April, police said that “a crowd” had gathered to listen to Lah. It was more than three weeks after restrictions on mass gatherings were announced in Myanmar, and more than two weeks after Myanmar officially documented its first case of COVID-19, the Canadian news outlet reported.
“Because of Lah’s action, many Christians in Myanmar face criticism and have sensed hostilities towards them in the Buddhist majority country,” ICC said. “Christian leaders have appealed to citizens to work together to fight COVID-19 in unity and love as anti-Christian sentiment surges on social media. They also urged people not to post and share fake news, photos and videos on Facebook that may be offensive to religion.”
Open Doors ranks Myanmar 19th on its 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The group notes that due to ongoing fighting, more than 100,000 Christians have been forced to flee their homes and are living in camps where they have been denied access to food and healthcare.