Churches blamed for spreading Covid virus and misinformation

Many of the new Covid cases in Auckland are linked to the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship church, and there is growing criticism of the attitude of some churches to Covid, and for spreading misinformation similar to what is being spread by US churches.

Yesterday Minister of Health Chris Hipkins hinted at concerns about attitudes to testing and disclosure about Covid.

RNZ: Student who tested positive an undisclosed contact, Hipkins says

“We did identify yesterday, in the cluster of cases announced, that there were a couple of cases that had not been previously identified … it would appear that somewhere along the way someone has not fully disclosed all of their contacts.”

“Obviously this is information we’d have liked to see sooner and we may have had fewer infections as a result had we known about the chain of connection.”

The authorities are now looking into whether that was on purpose.

“We’ve got community leaders in there, we’ve got police working alongside Auckland Regional Public Health as well to make sure we are getting all of the information that we need.

“That’s one of the things that the investigation is looking at now and it will include looking at whether there was a deliberate decision not to disclose, or whether it was simply an oversight,” Hipkins said.

He said this sub-cluster has been a challenge to work with as some members do not understand the seriousness of the situation.

“There are certainly some within the cluster that perhaps don’t accept or haven’t previously accepted the science involved here.”

They are now being educated on the gravity of the situation, he said.

“It would certainly appear that they were skeptical at the beginning,” Hipkins said. “I think that a lot of work has been done with them since then.”

Auckland University microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles told Morning Report

… it’s not surprising to hear some in the community are skeptical about Covid-19 and disinformation has been spreading.

“There are very key people in our communities within New Zealand and people in positions of influence who are really trying to disrupt our team of five million by spreading false information about the pandemic,” Wiles said.

“If that’s the reason why some people are not disclosing contacts or have not been cooperating, we’re now going to see the consequences of that.”

“This is a team of five million. This is about people and it only works when we all do our bit … it’s on all of us to be really mindful about sharing disinformation and talking to people around us who might be having these views.”

Today from RNZ: Churches with links to the US being blamed for spreading Covid-19 misinformation

New Zealand churches with US links are being blamed for spreading Covid-19 misinformation.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins has said some of the 43 people linked to the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship church cluster in Auckland were sceptical about the seriousness of the pandemic, as church and community leaders say they face a battle to check the spread of false information.

Pakilau Manase Lua grew up in the Seventh Day Adventist church and said his own friends and family were guilty of spreading conspiracies and false information about Covid-19.

“I’ve personally received lots of private messages regarding information that people think is useful but is purely disinformation, either about the virus itself or fear around the vaccine,” he said.

Lua, who is the chairman of the Pacific Leadership Forum’s Pacific Response Coordination Team, said this spread was especially rife among those with links to conservative evangelical or pentecostal churches in the United States.

“It’s been spreading like wildfire through social media.”

Including here. It’s not just linked to churches, it is also political.

Media chaplain and Wesleyan Methodist minister Frank Ritchie said some ministers were losing the battle to stem the flow of misinformation amongst their congregations.

“What I’m seeing is ministers who are doing the right thing, but their people are being indoctrinated online.”

Some congregation members were angry their minister did not agree with what they were reading on the internet about Covid-19, he said.

A study by Te Puunaha Matatini found there was a spike in mainstream media coverage of conspiracy theories following the outbreak of Covid-19 in August.

Researcher Kate Hannah said they were often spread by marginalised people who were historically distrustful of science or government.

Lua, who set up an online Kava Club during the March lockdown, said the forum was often used to spread fear and misinformation about the coronavirus.

But he was also using it as a space to challenge that, with some success.

“We tell them straight up ‘that’s rubbish’ and ‘here’s the other side’.

“So we give them the information and evidence and every now and then we’ll have a win, but it is hard because there is so much disinformation out there.

This ‘misinformation’ – with some it’s ignorance being spread, with others it seems to be deliberately used to make political attacks – is a risk to the whole country.

The current spread of Covid in Auckland is keeping the city and the country in level 2 lockdown. This impacts on community health, and also on jobs and businesses around the country.

People who spread crap are putting us all at risk.

Sri Lankan bombings – on the alleged ringleader

The alleged ringleader of the Sri Lankan bombing of churches and hotels, Mohamed Hashim Mohamed Zahran, has a history of differences with his school and various mosques, including a mosque he set up himself.

Reuters – ‘Black sheep’: The mastermind of Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday bombs

Mohamed Hashim Mohamed Zahran was 12 years old when he began his studies at the Jamiathul Falah Arabic College. He was a nobody, with no claim to scholarship other than ambition.

The boy surprised the school with his sharp mind. For three years, Zahran practiced memorizing the Koran. Next came his studies in Islamic law. But the more he learned, the more Zahran argued that his teachers were too liberal in their reading of the holy book.

“He was against our teaching and the way we interpreted the Koran – he wanted his radical Islam,” said Aliyar. “So we kicked him out.”

Zahran’s path from provincial troublemaker to alleged jihadist mastermind was marked by years of missed or ignored signals that the man with a thick beard and paunch was dangerous.

His increasingly militant brand of Islam was allowed to grow inside a marginalized minority community – barely 10 percent of the country’s roughly 20 million people are Muslim – against a backdrop of a dysfunctional developing nation.

The precise relationship between Zahran and Islamic State is not yet known. An official with India’s security services, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that during a raid on a suspected Islamic State cell by the National Investigation Agency earlier this year officers found copies of Zahran’s videos.

Zahran joined a mosque in 2006, the Dharul Athar, and gained a place on its management committee. But within three years they’d had a falling out.

“He wanted to speak more independently, without taking advice from elders,” said the mosque’s imam, or spiritual leader, M.T.M. Fawaz. Also, the young man was more conservative, Fawaz said, objecting, for instance, to women wearing bangles or earrings.

Mohamed Yusuf Mohamed Thaufeek, a friend who met Zahran at school and later became an adherent of his, said the problems revolved around Zahran’s habit of misquoting Islamic scriptures.

The mosque’s committee banned him from preaching for three months in 2009. Zahran stormed off.

Despite being “a bit rough-edged”, Zahran was a skilled speaker and others his age were drawn to his speeches and Koranic lessons, said Thaufeek. He traveled the countryside at times, giving his version of religious instruction as he went.

Also, Zahran had found a popular target: the town’s Sufi population, who practice a form of Islam often described a mystical, but which to conservatives is heresy.

Tensions in the area went back some years. In 2004, there was a grenade attack on a Sufi mosque and in 2006 several homes of Sufis were set afire. Announcements boomed from surrounding mosques at the time calling for a Sufi spiritual leader to be killed, said Sahlan Khalil Rahman, secretary of a trust that oversees a group of Sufi mosques.

He blamed followers of the fundamentalist Wahhabi strain of Islam that some locals say became more popular after funding from Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Wahhabism, flowed to mosques in Kattankudy.

It was, Rahman said, an effort “to convert Sufis into Wahhabis through this terrorism”. Rahman handed over a photograph album showing charred homes, bullet holes sprayed across an office wall and a shrine’s casket upended.

It was an ideal backdrop for Zahran’s bellicose delivery and apparent sense of religious destiny.

In 2012, Zahran started a mosque of his own. The Sufis were alarmed and, Rahman said, passed on complaints to both local law enforcement and eventually national government offices. No action was taken.

The then-officer in charge of Kattankudy police, Ariyabandhu Wedagedara, said in a telephone interview that he couldn’t arrest people simply because of theological differences.

This is a problem we are trying to address in New Zealand now – where does ‘free specch’ cross the line into dangerous or inciteful speech.

Zahran found another megaphone: the internet. His Facebook page was taken down after the bombings, but Muslims in the area said his video clips had previously achieved notoriety.

His speeches went from denouncing Sufis to “kafirs”, or non-believers, in general.

In 2017, Zahran’s confrontations boiled over. At a rally near a Sufi community, his followers came wielding swords. At least one man was hacked and hospitalized. The police arrested several people connected to Zahran, including his father and one of his brothers. Zahran slipped away from public view.

That December, the mosque Zahran founded released a public notice disowning him. Thaufeek, his friend from school, is now the head. He counted the places that Zahran had been driven away from – his school, the Dharul Athar mosque and then, “we ourselves kicked him out, which would have been hard for him to take”.

Until now his reported conflict was within the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.

The next year, a group of Buddha statues was vandalized in the town of Mawanella, about five hours drive from Kattankudy. There, in the lush mountains of Sri Lanka’s interior, Zahran had taken up temporary residence.

“He was preaching to kill people,” said A.G.M. Anees, who has served as an imam at a small mosque in the area for a decade. “This is not Islam, this is violence.”

Zahran went into hiding once more.

What he did from there is still under investigation.

Reuters – Sri Lanka bans groups suspected to be behind attacks; ringleader’s relatives wounded

Sri Lanka’s president on Saturday outlawed two Islamist groups suspected to be behind the suicide bombings on churches and hotels while the wife and child of the suspected ringleader were wounded during a military raid in safe house, his family and police said.

The National Thawheedh Jamaath (NTJ) and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim were banned under his emergency powers, President Maithripala Sirisena said in a statement, nearly a week after the Easter Sunday attacks that killed more than 250 people.

Police believe the suspected mastermind of the bombings, Mohamed Hashim Mohamed Zahran, led either the NTJ or a splinter group. Less is known about Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim, whose members are also believed to have played a role in the bombings.

A gunbattle erupted on Friday evening during a raid on a safe house in Sainthamaruthu in Ampara district on the island’s east coast, killing at least 15 people including three people with suicide vests and six children, a military spokesman said.

The wounded included the wife and a daughter of Zahran, his family said.

The bombings that Zahran is alleged to have been involved with targeted both churches (attended by Christians on Easter Sunday) and hotels. The victims and intended victims in the hotel bombings could have been associated with a variety of religions, and some may not have been religious.

The motives for the attacks have not been made known publicly. Obviously Christians were a target, but more general targets may have been aimed at a wider agenda – 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhist.

Muslim attacks on other religions would also cause problems within the Islamic population, some at least of which had conflicted with Zahran over his radical ideas and ‘misinterpretation’ of religions scriptures.

No group benefits from terrorist attacks. Apart from the death and destruction they inflict they cause problems for just about any group associated with the attacks in any way, or perceived to be associated.

More updates from Gezza:




Terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka – more than 200 killed

The death toll in the multiple bomb attacks against Christian targets in Sri Lanka is now over 200.

Already prominent on Twitter are complaints that because Christians were the target the media has been ‘silent’.

Obviously CNN haven’t been silent. It was the lead on 1 News last night (not long after the attacks occurred) –

– and leading ‘Today’s Top Stories’:

Lead news on other New Zealand media sites:



NZ Herald:

Only Newshub has a more prominent story – promoting their own programme about ‘stars’ that hardly anyone has heard of dancing, but they also cover the Sri Lankan attacks:

Some useful information here:

I’m so shook about what is happening in Sri Lanka, I’m not sure what to do. I’ve just been sitting here staring at Twitter like a helpless goof. I thought I would provide just a snapshot of the country for people unfamiliar:

Sri Lanka is massively ethno-religiously complex and a lot of reporting is likely to get it wrong.

Of the 20-22 million people in Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese comprise the majority ethnic group, with 74%. They are predominately Buddhist and speak Sinhala.

The Tamil community in Sri Lanka is made up of Sri Lankan Tamils (12.6 percent) and Indian Tamils (5.6 percent), most of whom are Hindu, but with a significant number of Christians (mostly Catholic). They speak Tamil.

The Muslims of Sri Lanka make up about 7 percent of the population. They speak Tamil, but don’t see themselves as ETHNICALLY Tamil. This has put the community in the crosshairs of many militant groups on all sides.

There have been rumours of Muslims in the country being radicalized and groups being funded by KSA/gulf states since at least the early 90s (including the group that is being linked to this attack). And it has been used as an excuse to preemptively attack Muslim communities

With this attack, the target selection doesn’t seem to point to Buddhist extremists (not sure what they would get out of killing tourists).

I would also be very careful using certain media sources out of India, random Facebook pages, and even some Sri Lankan media outlets and government officials as the sole source of info.