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Myanmar court denies bail to Canadian preacher who defied virus ban

A Myanmar court on Wednesday denied bail to a Canadian Christian preacher who held church services in defiance of a ban on gatherings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that led to infections in dozens of people including himself.

David Lah, a Canadian of Myanmarese origin, and another man, Myanmar national Wai Tun, are facing up to three years in prison under a disaster management law over church services held in the city of Yangon in early April.

A ban on public gatherings in the city took effect in mid-March.

“For lawsuits which carry a sentence of three years or more, we don’t need to grant bail,” judge Moe Swe told reporters after the hearing.

The judge said Lah’s lawyer had applied for bail. Reporters were not allowed into the court and Reuters was not immediately able to identify or contact the lawyer for comment.

Cluster grew to 67 cases

About 20 people who took part in the gatherings in April later tested positive for the novel coronavirus, an official said at the time.

Lah talks in a YouTube video as he prays April 1 in a screengrab taken from video. (Child of God/YouTube/Reuters)

This led to a cluster of 67 cases including the preacher, according to Thar Tun Kyaw, a spokesperson for the health ministry.

The coronavirus has infected more than six million people globally and killed more than 37,600.

Clusters of infections in several countries have been linked to religious gatherings.

Myanmar, which has reported 233 cases of the virus and six deaths, is a Buddhist-majority country but Christians make up about six per cent of the population.

The next court hearing is on June 8.

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