Two Bulawayo women appeared in court Monday accused of sharing on WhatsApp a fake statement purportedly issued by President Emmerson Mnangagwa extending the coronavirus lockdown.
They are the second and third persons to be charged under anti-fake news regulations imposed during the coronavirus lockdown which began on March 30.
Rena Takudzwa Muhambi, 20, of Hillside and Prisca Gumbo, 44, of Mpopoma were charged with “publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state” when they appeared before Bulawayo magistrate Shepherd Mjanja.
Gumbo was released on Z$1,000 bail and Muhambi’s bail was set at Z$500 with conditions.
Carlington Dliwayo, for the prosecution, had opposed bail arguing that the duo are facing a Level 14 offence, the highest on the statute books, and faced imprisonment of up to 20 years which would induce them to abscond.
Last month, police arrested Chitungwiza resident Lovemore Zvokusekwa, 36, on similar charges.
Mnangagwa last month threatened 20 years in jail to the author of the statement purporting to bear his signature that said the lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak had been extended. The statement, bearing a date of April 10, was fake – although its authors correctly predicted that a 21-day lockdown originally imposed from March 30 would be extended until May 3. Mnangagwa did not announce an extension until April 19.
“That is absolutely nonsense, I have never made such a statement,” Mnangagwa fumed on April 13. “If we catch this person, it must be exemplary and they must go in for at least at level 14, which is 20 years imprisonment. That, I think we need to demonstrate that we don’t want false news to be circulated especially when you are telling false news about the president. That is not proper.”
Zimbabwean authorities have no established who originated the statement, but are prosecuting people who shared it as received on WhatsApp.