A French church has been issued with death threats after the Government accused them of perpetuating the spread of COVID-19.
Pastor Samuel Peterschmitt of Porte Ouverte church said that his congregation was accused of being the source of France's widespread outbreak of the virus after holding an evangelical conference during which several people became infected.
Detractors have been making horrific threats towards the church, such as "'they must be shot with Kalashnikovs' [and] 'we must burn the church,'" Peterschmitt told the BBC. Porte Ouverte was heavily criticised by the French government itself after the large worship gathering back in February, despite the fact that lockdown measures had yet to be implemented.
"We had a week to fast and to pray, as we've had for 25 years," Peterschmitt explained. "It's a moment to celebrate, lots of people come."
Following the gathering, several people were hospitalised with coronavirus symptoms. In total, 29 people who attended the festival died of the illness.
The pastor said he "didn't notice anything out of the ordinary in the church," during the conference, noting that "always in a crowd of 2,000 people you'll have someone who coughs."
Peterschmitt himself even became unwell, saying that he started to experience symptoms such as "shivers and exhaustion" before becoming completely bed-ridden for a number of days.
Speaking of the fierce condemnation his church had faced over the outbreak, the pastor said: "Everyone talked about us as the starting point, but no-one wondered how we got infected ourselves."
In an interview that end of last month, French Health Minister Olivier Veran called publicly condemned the church, saying that the "tipping point [of the outbreak] was the evangelical gathering at Mulhouse," and noting that it was "really from there that the epidemic spread."
Soon, with the rapid proliferation of the virus, Peterschmitt's church became a prime target, something which the pastor called "the scapegoat effect."
"There have been relatively violent reactions, on social networks, many insults, threats," he said. "We have had people who have been assaulted at their workplaces, people who have had nasty text messages from their neighbours."
He added: "Of course, people were afraid. This is not the time for war. We must not have division, we must unite against the disease.
"We must not choose the wrong enemy."
France currently has just under 160,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with over 21,000 deaths.