The global leader of a Sydney church busted for holding a service during lockdown claims COVID-19 vaccines alter people’s DNA and regularly promotes conspiracy theories.
Nigerian pastor Chris Oyakhilome is the founder and president of LoveWorld Incorporated, also known as Christ Embassy, based in Lagos.
In the past he has urged followers not to have COVID-19 vaccines and attacked other Nigerian pastors for complying with bans on large gatherings aimed at controlling the virus.
His religious TV channel was sanctioned twice in six months in Britain for peddling misinformation about COVID-19, including that the pandemic was planned and vaccines are being used to implant “nanochips” to control people.
When some of his Sydney-based followers gathered illegally in the hotspot suburb of Blacktown on Sunday, fed-up neighbours called the police. There were 60 devotees in attendance, half of them children, when police arrived.
Footage of a sermon delivered by Christ Embassy Sydney pastor Marvin Osaghae and posted online shows him asking followers to pray for the NSW government.
“We pray for NSW government, we declare that the wisdom of God is granted,” he said.
“We declare that lockdowns are over in the cities of NSW, in the name of Jesus.”
Thirty adults have each been fined $1000, with the church also fined $5000 for a gathering held in a defiance of a lockdown aimed at preventing more deaths and reining in the more than 800 new cases NSW is recording each day.
The incident left NSW Police Minister David Elliott stunned.
“Churches are there to profess the message of hope and love and to have those people endanger communities … is extraordinary,” he told Sydney radio 2GB on Monday.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian called the gathering a blatant contradiction of rules that keep people out of hospital.
In April this year, Pastor Oyakhilome’s TV channel, LoveWorld, was fined £125,000 ($A238,000) for breaching Britain’s broadcasting code by spreading misinformation about COVID-19.
It was the second time LoveWorld breached rules “on accuracy in news and harm in its coverage of the coronavirus”, Britain’s broadcasting regulator Ofcom said in a statement.
The previous incident involved a 29-hour program LoveWorld aired in December last year, called the Global Day of Prayer.
Ofcom said the program “included the notion that the outbreak was ‘planned’, that the ‘sinister’ vaccine can be used to implant ‘nanochips’ that can control and cause harm to members of the public and the debunked theory that the virus was somehow caused by 5G”.
Some of the content on Christ Embassy Sydney’s Facebook page shares conspiracy theories about the virus.
The page, which has almost 6500 followers, features one video that claims COVID-19 is “imaginary”, that Pfizer is peddling a vaccine for a make-believe disease, and that the PCR test used to detect the virus is “a complete fraud”.
AAP has sought comment from Christ Embassy Sydney, and has attempted to seek comment from Pastor Osaghae.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said he hoped followers would reflect on the risk they’d exposed themselves and their children to.
“I would hope that that would be the last time that we see this kind of activity from this group of people.”