A Tauranga Destiny Church pastor is accused of twice breaching a Covid-19 public health order by organising large protest gatherings in Coronation Park and Memorial Park.
Leon Wharewehe Samuels, 43, faced two charges of failing to comply with a Covid-19 Public Health Response Act order when he appeared in the Tauranga Registrar's Court today.
The first gathering at Coronation Park in Mount Maunganui took place during the nationwide Super Saturday nationwide push to increase vaccinations on October 16.
Police allege he intentionally failed to comply with the health order by organising an event at the park that exceeded the 100-person limit.
Police say 300-400 people were in attendance at the protest gathering and the majority were not wearing masks.
Samuels is also accused of intentionally failing to comply with the health order by organising an event at Memorial Park on October 30 which also exceeded the 100-person restriction.
It is further alleged Samuels failed to comply with the order by not registering the attendees by way of the QR code scan system or by way of manual record.
The second charge relates to a similar protest gathering held in Memorial Park on October 30 where thousands of people attended, many also unmasked, the police said.
The maximum penalty for each charge is six months' prison and a fine of $4000.
Samuels' lawyer Rachael Adams asked the court registrar to bail her client on agreed terms for two weeks so she could further discuss the charges with him.
Samuels was remanded on bail without entering pleas on strict terms to next appear in the same court on November 18.
Police earlier said inquiries into these gatherings continued and they were not ruling out laying further charges.
Samuels appeared in court wearing a face mask.
Samuel's bail conditions included him not using any device to assist in organising such events, nor taking an active part in arranging events on behalf of the Freedom & Right Coalition.
He was also banned from participating in any event that breached the Covid-19 public health order.
Outside the court, Samuels declined to comment when approached by the Bay of Plenty Times.
Meanwhile, Destiny Church founder and leader Brian Tamaki, 63, is also facing charges over similar freedom protests in Auckland.
On October 16 Tamaki spoke at a Covid-19 lockdown and vaccination protest in Auckland Domain, with about 2000 people gathered at the event.
The protest was held on the same day the Government was making its vaccine push during the Super Saturday vaccination campaign.
He is also accused of organising and attending the first Destiny Church-led mass anti- lockdown protest on October 2.
Tamaki appeared in the Auckland District Court on October 22 and was released on bail after spending several hours in a holding cell at Henderson police station.
Tamaki denied the charges through his lawyer Ron Mansfield QC.
Hundreds of his supporters gathered outside the police station in West Auckland, several wearing Freedom NZ face masks and clothing, and the protest led to chaotic scenes.
Tamaki maintains while he spoke at the protests, he was not the organiser and has repeatedly said he is pro-choice, not anti-vax.
If convicted of either of the protest charges, he could face up to six months' jail and a $4000 fine.
He is due back in the Auckland District Court on November 11.
-Additional reporting NZME