Zimbabwean couple detained for claiming President succumbed to Covid-19

Jan, 29th 2021 – A couple in Zimbabwe 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 and his wife Vongai Nomatter Chiminya is part of a crackdown targeting government critics.

According to prosecutors, the couple from Beitbridge forwarded a message on WhatsApp groups claiming President Mnangagwa died of Covid-19 on January 25. On the 26th of January, prosecuting miss Tsitsi Mutukwa said that the two were at their home when Chiminya received an audio message via WhatsApp. The audio claimed that President Mnangagwa had died of Covid-19 on the 25th of January.

She allegedly sent the message to Maregere who then forwarded the message to other groups. According to Miss Tsitsi, Maregere used his phone’s netone line to forward the message.

Beitbridge magistrate Toendepi Zhou denied the couple bail before remanding them in custody to March 5. They have been charged with communicating falsehoods.

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

Home Affairs ministry secretary, Aaron Nhepera, 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.

He said, “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.”

“This has a destabilising effect at a time the nation is grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic,” he added.

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