Zimbabwe: Spreading Fake Covid-19 News Attracts Jail Term

31 March 2020

Publication and communication of fake news concerning the Covid-19 pandemic will attract a jail term of up to 20 years.

This is contained in Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020 titled Public Health (Covid-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) Order, 2020.

The SI was published by the Minister of Health and Child Care Dr Obadiah Moyo in terms of the Public Health Act and in consultation with President Mnangagwa.

The SI was promulgated to give legal effect to the national lockdown restricting movement of people for 21 days, beginning yesterday up to April 19.

"For the avoidance of doubt any person who publishes or communicates false news about any public officer, official or enforcement officer involved with enforcing or implementing the national lockdown in his or her capacity as such, or about any private individual that has the effect of prejudicing the State's enforcement of the national lockdown, shall be liable for prosecution under section 31 of the Criminal Law Code ("Publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the State") and liable to the penalty there provided, that is to say a fine up to or exceeding level 14 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years or both," reads the SI.

A number of fake messages concerning incidences of the virus in the country have been rife on social media.

The SI has four parts dealing with various issues that is provisions on the interpretation and scope of order, national lockdown and prohibition of gatherings, border closure orders and general issues.

Constitutional law expert Professor Lovemore Madhuku said the SI was important to ensure that Government conforms with the Constitution.

"The Constitution requires that anything that Government does it has to be done in terms of the law," Prof Madhuku said.

"It was therefore necessary to have that SI to satisfy an act of Government that limits fundamental rights that are set out in the Constitution."

He added that all countries that have declared lockdowns have had to pass legislation to justify their actions.

Another lawyer, Mr Obert Gutu concurred saying: "It wouldn't have been legal to call for a national lockdown without providing for the necessary legal requirement of promulgating an appropriate SI.

"Zimbabwe is a constitutional democracy and, therefore, every action of Government, if it will be legal and constitutional must, of necessity, be anchored on the laws of the country."

The SI has four parts with Part I dealing with the title, interpretation and scope of order, Part II dealing with national lockdown and prohibition of gatherings, Part III providing for border closure orders and Part IV general issues.

According to the SI the lockdown that began yesterday will run until April 19.

During the period, individuals would be confined to their homes and may only leave to buy basic necessities at a supermarket or food retail store, or fuel or gas at a fuel or gas retail outlet, within a radius not exceeding five kilometres or the nearest establishments if those within the radius are closed.

However, only one person per household would be permitted to leave the house for the above purposes.

Individuals are also permitted to leave their homes to buy at pharmacies within a five kilometre radius or the nearest establishment if the first one is closed or does not have required medicines in stock.

People working in organisations providing essential services are also permitted to leave their homes to go to work including those working for foreign missions or agencies.

Foreigners, residents or protected subjects of a foreign nation visiting missions of countries they are citizens, residents or subjects are also exempted from the lock down order.

The SI also ordered the closure of every business except those providing essential services that include but not limited to pharmacies, laboratories, banking institutions, payment and money transfer services, supermarkets and food retail stores, fuel outlets and health care providers.

Other business operations that are exempted include those in transport services engaged in the carriage of staff for essential services, the carriage of sick persons to hospitals and other health care providers, and the transport of water, food, fuel, basic goods, medical supplies needed to combat Covid-19 and other medical supplies.

Public transport services, whether intra-city or inter-city, for the passengers shall be restricted to those provided by Zupco vehicles operated by or on behalf of the Public Service Association, the Police Service, the Defence Forces and the Civil Protection Authorities.

Commuter omnibuses and other passenger service vehicles operated or chartered by local authorities for their staff for essential services, the carriage of sick persons to hospitals and other health care providers, and the transport for provisions needed to combat Covid-19 and other medical supplies are also exempted.

"Every individual found outside his or her home shall have the burden of proving, to the satisfaction of an enforcement officer, that he or she is covered by any of the exceptions listed in subsection or is acting under demonstrably exceptional circumstances," reads part of the SI.

Any person who contravenes the lockdown order would be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level twelve or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or to both.

The SI also bans gatherings of more than two people however, in circumstances where they are allowed to gather there should be not more than 50 people and should also observe social distancing.

Gatherings that are permitted include funeral services, people carried within a transport service vehicle provided the social distancing rule is possible and individuals in supermarkets, hospitals among others.

The SI empowers enforcement officers to disperse people breaking the rule on gathering or order gatherings to comply with the social distancing rule.

"Any person partaking at a gathering or convener there of who partakes in or convenes a gathering knowing that such gathering is prohibited refuses to disperse from a gathering after being ordered to disperse or refuses to observe the social distancing rule after being ordered to do so in terms of subsection shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fi ne not exceeding level 12 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year to both such fine and such imprisonment," reads the SI.

Diplomatic visas, temporary residence permit or employment permit of every foreign national who, during the period of national lockdown, is permitted to be in Zimbabwe by virtue of that visa or permit is hereby extended so that the period of the national lockdown is not counted as part of the period during which they are permitted to be in Zimbabwe.

The SI also prohibits the hoarding at home or any other premises of medical supplies needed to combat COVID-19 and food in excess of what is needed to be stored for himself or herself and his or her family during the period

of the national lockdown.

People contravening the provision would be liable to a level 12 fine, a year imprisonment or both.

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