A Tauranga Destiny Church pastor accused of twice breaching a Covid-19 public health order by organising two large protest gatherings will defend the charges.
Leon Wharewehe Samuels, 43, pleaded not guilty to 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.
His not guilty pleas were entered through his lawyer Rachael Adams.
Samuels was further remanded on bail to next appear in court on January 25 for a case review hearing.
The first charge relates to a gathering at Coronation Park in Mount Maunganui on October 16 which took place during the Super Saturday nationwide push to increase vaccinations.
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 up to 400 people were in attendance at the protest gathering and the majority were not wearing masks.
The second charge relates to a similar protest gathering held in Memorial Park on October 30 where thousands of people attended, many also unmasked, police said.
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 maximum penalty for each charge is six months' prison and a fine of $4000.
Samuels' lawyer Rachael Adams asked the 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
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 the Auckland Domain, with about 2000 people gathered at the event.
The protest was held on the same day as the Super Saturday vaccination campaign.
He is also accused of organising and attending the first Destiny Church-led mass anti-lockdown Freedom NZ protest on October 2.
Tamaki appeared in the Auckland District Court on October 23 and was released on bail after spending several hours in a holding cell at Henderson police station.
Tamaki has denied the charges through his lawyer Ron Mansfield QC.
Tamaki maintains while he had spoken at the protests, he was not the organiser and has repeatedly said he is pro-choice, not anti-vax.
He is also facing fresh charges in relation to another anti-lockdown protest rally in Auckland on November 20.
He is due back in the Auckland District Court.