Africa: COVID-19 and the Suppression of Freedom of Expression - Part Two

analysis

On 27 March, Ndavaningi 'Nick' Mangwana, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, tweeted this message from President Emmerson Mnangagwa: 'Legal instruments are being put in place to deal with and punish those who cause unnecessary alarm and despondency through social and other media. During this emergency, we need to act responsibly.'

To people from other countries, this might sound like a perfectly acceptable message from a president during a time of crisis. However, this is Zimbabwe - a country where the president believes people are using social media to plot to remove him from power. A country where anyone who questions the government is accused of causing 'alarm and despondency'.

This was nothing short of a declaration of war on free speech during the lockdown.

The government then announced the Public Health (Covid-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) Regulations 2020. One of the sections deals with "false reporting during the national lockdown". It says:

"14. 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...

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