Ugandan authorities have charged and jailed a controversial pastor who allegedly denied the existence of the new coronavirus in Africa, police said on Monday.
The prominent cleric, Augustine Yiga, is accused by prosecutors of telling his Revival Christian Church on Friday, in comments carried by local television stations, that there is “no coronavirus in Uganda and Africa”.
“Pastor Yiga of the Revival Christian Church was charged and remanded to prison for doing acts likely to cause the spread of COVID-19,” said Uganda police spokesman Patrick Onyango.
“Claiming that COVID-19 doesn’t exist in Africa and Uganda undermines government efforts in fighting the epidemic and exposes the public to great danger of laxity in observing the guidelines on its control and prevention,” he added.
But the pastor’s lawyer, Wilberforce Kayiwa, said Yiga denied the charge of promoting the spread of the virus.
The pastor faces a jail term of up to seven years.
Yiga, who runs a church and television station, has a massive following and is known for holding controversial religious views and claiming prophetic powers.
Uganda has so far reported 33 cases of the virus.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has urged people to stay home but has stopped short of ordering a lockdown.
Schools, places of entertainment and worship and some agricultural markets have been shut for a month and people have been banned from using public transport, and being more than three to a car, or one on a private motorbike.
Last week, a court in the capital charged six Chinese nationals and two Ugandans with “an act likely to spread infection of disease” after the Ugandans allegedly helped the Chinese nationals escape self-quarantine at a hotel.
Two of the Chinese had tested positive for the virus.