Couple detained for claiming Mnangagwa died of Covid-19

Emmerson Mnangagwa

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Photo credit: File | AFP

A Zimbabwean couple has been detained for sending a message on the WhatsApp platform claiming that President Emmerson Mnangagwa had succumbed to Covid-19.

The arrest of Devine Panashe Maregere (20) and his wife Vongai Nomatter Chiminya (20) is part of a crackdown targeting government critics.

Prosecutors said the couple from Beitbridge, a town on the border with South Africa, forwarded a message on WhatsApp groups claiming President Mnangagwa died of Covid-19 on January 25.

Beitbridge magistrate Toendepi Zhou denied Mr Margaret and Ms Chiminya bail before remanding them in custody to March 5.

They were charged with publishing or communicating falsehoods.

Aaron Nhepera, the Home Affairs ministry secretary, said the government was disturbed by the number of  people sharing false stories alleging that top government or ruling party  officials had succumbed to Covid-19.

Rumours about the health of top government officials, including Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, started swirling after three ministers were killed by Covid-19 last week.

"Let us be reminded that such acts have the effect of causing alarm and despondency, not only to the individuals affected and their families,  but to the nation at large," Mr Nhepera said.

"This has a destabilising effect at a time the nation is grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic."

Legal experts, however, say the piece of legislation being used to charge people for communicating falsehoods was struck down  by the Constitutional Court years ago.

Some of the prominent people charged under  the same law in recent weeks include invesigative  journalist Hopewell Chin’ono.

Mr Chin’ono was released on Wednesday after spending nearly three weeks in jail for allegedly communicating falsehoods.

He was arrested on January 9 for tweeting that a police officer had allegedly beaten an infant to death while enforcing Covid-19 lockdown regulations.

The journalist  had commented on a video allegedly showing a police officer being confronted by a mother carrying the seemingly lifeless baby, which went viral on social media.

He  was arrested alongside mainstream opposition MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere and the party's vice chairman Sikhala over the same case.

Mr Chin’ono says he is being persecuted for speaking out against corruption cases where President Mnangagwa’s family was implicated.

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