Can one be jailed for 20 years for spreading COVID-19 rumors?


“We now have a law which punishes those who produce fake news […] So if we catch this person [who spreads fake news] it must be exemplary, and they must go in for at least at level 14, which is 20 years imprisonment,” the president warned.” President Emerson Mnangagwa

He was referring to Section 14 of Statutory Instrument 83 of the Public Health (Covid-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) Order, 2020. Publication or communication of “false or fake news” during the national lock down period could attract the excessive punishment, heavy fine, or both.

A press statement — purported to be from Mnangagwa himself — went viral on social media last week. It claimed the president had extended the 21-day lockdown by “13 days only”.

It is the state’s case that Lovemore Zvokusekwa originated and distributed the statement using his cellphone, a Huawei 6 Pro, the serial and phone numbers of which were supplied in court. The police in their affidavit claim that they traced some of the recipients — who have since turned state witness — and also found fake statements on the phone.

ALLEGATIONS During the month of April 2020, the accused person published a false Press Statement document purported to be issued and signed by President of Republic of Zimbabwe His Excellency Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa headlined, “EXTENSION OF LOCKDOWN PERIOD BY 13 DAYS ONLY The false press statement document was extending the lockdown period by 13 days from 20 April 2020 to 3 May 2020.

Zvokusekwa was remanded in custody. If found guilty, he faces a maximum of 20 years in jail after Zimbabwe last month published lockdown regulations that include jail terms for spreading falsehoods about the Covid-19 outbreak.

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