The police yesterday invited for questioning, the leaders of a charismatic church, Christ Embassy Church in Ghana, over an alleged gathering by the youth of the church who blatantly disregarded the COVID-19 safety protocols at an event at the Fantasy Dome, Trade Fair Centre in Accra last Friday, April 30.
Also, the management of the venue was invited for questioning as part of police investigation over a trending video of the alleged gathering, dubbed: "Pneumatic Night" which showed an event that had a mass crowd in attendance but without face masks and were seen screaming, chanting and dancing to the "evangelism" which was considered a super spreader event for COVID-19.
As further action, the police temporarily closed down the Fantasy Dome while investigations continued.
Additionally, the police yesterday laid surveillance and ensured that a similar event held at the Christ Embassy Service Centre at UPSA took place with all the COVID-19 protocols being observed.
It warned that persons found culpable in the investigation would be prosecuted accordingly.
A statement from the police, signed by the Director of Public Affairs of the Ghana Police Service, Superintendent of Police Mrs Sheilla Kessie Abayie-Buckman, stressed that people found culpable would be made to face the law accordingly.
The video, which trended last Saturday and yesterday, showed a fully-packed air-conditioned dome of excited youth who were engrossed in their worship, in a manner similar to church crusades and conventions before the pre-COVID-19 times.
Apart from all who attended the event and were captured in the video not wearing masks, there was no social distancing as the congregants sat or stood very close to one another.
The leaders of the programme were also not in face masks.
The event has attracted wide condemnation from the general public with a call from a pressure group, Occupy Ghana, calling for a probe.
Occupy Ghana, in a statement, questioned how the event, reportedly organised by the Airport City branch of the church, was allowed to take place, given the head pastor Chris Oyakhilome’s stance on the virus.
“We are shocked that the authorities could either actively or negligently allow this event to be held in Accra, especially by a religious organisation whose leader actively denies the virus and preaches against the protocols.
“The government must answer to Ghanaians whether or not this event was held on its blind side, and if so, how that was possible. Were the police present at the event, and if not, why?
“Were the venue owners present, and did they take any steps to prevent or stop this?” it questioned.
No police security
However, the police said they had no knowledge of the event taking place and did not give approval to the organisers.
The statement from Mrs Abayie-Buckman said though such mass gathering at a public place required police security, that was not the case at the event at the Fantasy Dome as the police were neither informed nor asked to provide security.
"The police did not provide security for the said event. In fact, the organisers did not give notice of the event to any police officer or station.
"The event, advertised as a church service, which ordinarily did not require notice under the Public Order Act, was organised at the blind side of the police,” the statement indicated.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Ghana last year, mass gatherings have been banned as part of efforts to curb the spread of the disease.
After almost six months of complete closure, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo announced that church and other religious activities would take place within two hours, but with the strict adherence to the COVID-19 protocols of handwashing with soap and under running water, social distancing in the seating arrangements for such programmes, while the general public were also encouraged to use the hand sanitiser when needed.
The adherence to these protocols has allowed religious events to take place while other social events, such as parties and other celebrations, still remain banned.
Fine for Christ Embassy founder
The communications regulator in the United Kingdom, Ofcom, last month fined a Christian broadcaster £125,000 after it breached the rules by airing “inaccurate and potentially harmful claims about coronavirus”.
Loveworld Television Network, also known as Christ Embassy, an evangelical Christian ministry founded in Nigeria and led by Pastor Oyakhilome, was found to have made the violation back in January this year after a 29-hour show titled: The Global Day of Prayer featured sermons with “potentially harmful” claims about COVID-19 – including that the virus was “planned” and created by the “deep state”, and vaccines were a “sinister” means of administering “nanochips” to control people.
Ofcom had already ordered Loveworld not to repeat the programme and to broadcast a summary of its decision three times in a day, but has now issued the fine after concluding the breaches were “serious, repeated and reckless”.
It marks the second time in a year that the regulator has ruled against Loveworld Limited for unsubstantiated claims made about COVID-19 on air.
In April 2020, Loveworld broadcast false claims that the cause of coronavirus was linked to the rollout of 5G technology.
During one of the network’s news programmes, a presenter claimed the bogus link represented “the largest global cover-up in history”, and continued: “This is not coronavirus, but cell poisoning. Remember 5G started in China. Wuhan is one of the provinces where 5G has been rolled out.”
Ofcom, in its ruling, stressed that “inaccurate and potentially harmful claims” made during The Global Day of Prayer show could not go unpunished because they were “unsupported by any factual evidence and have the potential to undermine confidence in public health measures put in place to tackle COVID-19 – at a time when people were looking for reliable information given advances in the vaccination programme.”