On Thursday, a court in the Buddhist-majority Myanmar sentenced a Christian pastor who lives in Canada to three months in prison for defying a law intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
David Lah, who was born in Myanmar and frequently travels to the southeast Asian country to preach, was charged with violating the ban on gatherings when he held an evangelical church meeting in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, on April 7, according to CBC News.
Lah’s attorney Aung Kyi Win said the court found his client guilty of violating a portion of the country’s Natural Disaster Management Law, which has barred gatherings during the pandemic.
The charges against the 43-year-old preacher arose after authorities found video evidence on social media of him holding religious services amid the virus outbreak.
Lah first appeared in court in May, after he was released from quarantine, following a stint at a local hospital, where he was treated for a coronavirus infection. Around 20 of his followers also reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.
During his sermon in early April, Lah reportedly told congregants: “If people hold the Bible and Jesus in their hearts, the disease will not come in. The only person who can cure and give peace in this pandemic is Jesus.”
Wai Tun, one of Lah’s Myanmar-based colleagues, was also sentenced.
Al Jazeera reporter Florence Looi said the judge “took into consideration the time [Lah’s] already spent in detention, so he could very well be released in the next few days or weeks even.”
After being arrested in May, Lah originally faced a three-year prison sentence. Then on Thursday, the judge went with a much more lenient ruling of three months.
Roughly 50 of Lah’s supporters awaited the judge’s ruling outside the courthouse. When his decision was announced, the Toronto-based minister’s followers erupted in cheers, celebrating the lesser sentence.
Lah, for his part, pleaded not guilty in July. He has not publicly commented on the case, though.
Christians account for around 6% of Myanmar’s population.