Zimbabwe’s president on Tuesday warned people against spreading rumors regarding the coronavirus pandemic on social media, saying they could face punishment of up to 20 years in jail for doing so.
He was reacting to a purported statement regarding an extension in the nationwide lockdown.
Terming the news as "nonsense," Emmerson Mnangagwa said: “I have never made such a statement,” according to the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.
He made the remarks during an inspection tour to the central city of Gweru.
“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.
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 lockdown period could attract the excessive punishment, heavy fine, or both.
Mnangagwa announced a 21-day lockdown on March 30, in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.
All citizens were ordered to stay at home, except for essential movements related to seeking health services or the purchase of food, etc.
Authorities in the landlocked African country have confirmed three deaths and 17 COVID-19 cases so far, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The virus, which was first detected in China has spread to 185 countries and regions.
More than 1.93 million cases have been reported worldwide, with the death toll nearing 121,000 and almost 465,000 recoveries.
Widely known as “the Crocodile,” Mnangagwa came into power after the resignation of Robert Mugabe in 2017.