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Updated on May 21, 2020 From The Irrawaddy

Pastors Arrested for Holding Gatherings Amid Myanmar’s COVID-19 Restrictions

YANGON—Two pastors who organized religious gatherings that have been linked to at least 80 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Yangon, including two deaths, were arrested under the Natural Disaster Management Law on Wednesday and will face charges of violating government orders aimed at curbing the spread of the disease.

Saw David Lah, a Canadian citizen, and Saw Kwae Wah were sent to Insein Prison after their first appearances at courts in Yangon’s Mayangone and Insein townships on Wednesday.

The gatherings they organized in late March and early April helped spread the coronavirus to nearly seven dozen people, making it the largest cluster found so far in Myanmar, which had reported 193 COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday. Saw David Lah himself tested positive for the coronavirus in April and was discharged from hospital late last month after recovering.

Both pastors have had lawsuits opened against them under Article 25 of the Natural Disaster Management Law and face up to three years’ imprisonment or fines if convicted.

The Yangon regional COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response Committee has filed lawsuits against four people—Saw David Lah, Saw Kwae Wah and two of their followers—since April 14 for holding the religious gatherings in defiance of the government orders, which include a March 13 ban on mass gatherings until the end of this month.

Both pastors were arrested on Wednesday upon completing their quarantine periods. The other two facing lawsuits are still in quarantine or in hospital.

Plaintiff U Ye Win Aung, an administrator in Mayangone Township, where the gatherings were held, said Saw David Lah and his followers held meetings for nearly a whole week in early April and broadcast the events live.

“At the time, the government’s ban on mass gatherings was already in effect. Their gatherings caused infections. That’s why we have filed cases against them,” he said.

Since Saw David Lah tested positive, health officials have been testing anyone who had close contact with him for COVID-19, including Union Vice President Henry Van Thio, whom the pastor met in February. The Vice President tested negative.

IMAGE: Canadian pastor Saw David Lah appears at Yangon's Mayangone Township Court on Wednesday before being sent to prison. / Myo Min Soe
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