A court in Myanmar has sentenced a Canadian pastor to three months in jail after he held in-person church services in defiance of a government-mandated ban on mass gatherings.
Pastor David Lah, 43, and his colleague, Myanmar national Wai Tun, were charged in April with violating Myanmar’s Natural Disaster and Management Law by holding services in the city of Yangon, the AFP reports. Though based in Toronto, Lah was born in Myanmar and often returns to his motherland to preach.
On Thursday, both men were convicted of breaking administrative rules and given a three-month hard labor sentence, Maung Soe, a judge at Yangon’s Mayangone Township court, told reporters.
“The judge also took into consideration the time he’s already spent in detention, so he could very well be released in the next few days or weeks even,” according to Christian Post.
Myanmar imposed a ban on mass gatherings in mid-March in response to the novel coronavirus. However, footage emerged in early April of Lah holding a service in Yangon.
“If people hold the Bible and Jesus in their hearts, the disease will not come in,” he said, according to video footage of the event. “The only person who can cure and give peace in this pandemic is Jesus.”
Weeks later, about 20 people connected to his gatherings tested positive for the novel coronavirus, including Pastor Lah. However, it’s possible that attendees contracted the virus elsewhere.
The preacher was arrested after recovering from the illness in May and faced up to three years in jail. On Thursday, a waiting crowd of the preacher’s followers erupted into cheers and celebrations at the news of his reduced sentence, according to the AFP.