Uganda: Police Arrest Pastor Claiming Coronavirus ‘Does Not Exist’ in Africa

A police officer arrests a man on a street in Kampala, Uganda, on March 26, 2020, after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni directed the public to stay home for 32 days starting March 22, 2020 to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. - Ugandan authorities have identified 14 confirmed cases …
BADRU KATUMBA/AFP via Getty Images

Authorities in Kampala — Uganda’s national and commercial capital — arrested nearly 30 people over the weekend for violating restrictions meant to stop the spread of the Chinese coronavirus in the country.

Police arrested a pastor for claiming the Chinese coronavirus does not exist in Uganda. Authorities also detained 28 people for holding Church services despite a ban on large gatherings.

Uganda Police Force announced the arrest of the devout citizens in a statement via Twitter on Sunday.

“The Joint Task Force has today arrested two pastors and twenty-six of their congregation for defying the Presidential Directive banning religious gatherings as a measure of curbing the spread [of Chinese coronavirus],” the statement read.

On Saturday, Pastor Augustine Yiga of Revival Church Kawaala — like the congregation, also based in Kampala — was arrested for allegedly uttering false information and spreading harmful propaganda that promotes the spread of Chinese coronavirus. In a video that has since gone viral on Ugandan social media, the pastor said, “There is no coronavirus in Uganda and Africa.”

Police accuse Yiga of making the remark knowing or having reason to believe that it would help spread the Chinese coronavirus.

“The Pastor is suspected to have said, in a video recording … that the Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] is not in Uganda. The video that went viral undermines government efforts in fighting the pandemic and exposes the public to dangers of laxity in observing the guidelines issued,” Uganda Police Force said on Twitter.

Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson Patrick Onyango called Yiga’s action a “direct attack on the people of Uganda.”

Pastor Yiga appeared in front of a magistrate on Monday and denied the charge against him. Indicating Yiga’s followers shared responsibility for the pastor’s punishment, the magistrate said they had not observed guidelines of social distancing as one of Uganda’s measures to stop the spread of the Chinese coronavirus. The magistrate added that he would give his ruling on Pastor Yiga’s bail application “when his followers learn” to observe social distancing. Yiga will be in custody until April 4.

On March 21, President Yoweri Museveni ordered a 30-day closure of all border entry and exit points in Uganda as part of his efforts to halt the spread of the Chinese coronavirus in the country. Shortly after the decree was issued, Ugandan police arrested six Chinese nationals and two Ugandans at a border crossing. The men were charged with conducting acts likely to spread disease after they allegedly violated a Chinese coronavirus quarantine order.

According to the directive, anyone who entered the country before March 21 and came from a nation with high numbers of Chinese coronavirus cases — such as China, where the coronavirus originated — must be placed under mandatory quarantine or self-isolation for 14 days.

At press time Monday, Uganda had 33 confirmed cases of Chinese coronavirus and no deaths.

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