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At least one man in Tanzania has been arrested for making social media posts claiming President John Magufuli is ill. From what state officials are saying, more people might be arrested.
The president, who is a coronavirus denier, has not been seen in public for more than two weeks. The absence has sparked rumors that he is unwell. The rumors are considered plausible considering the president is usually known to offer frequent public speeches and makes frequent appearances on national television.
Magufuli drew attention from the international scene last year for his vehement denial of the existence of the coronavirus. As the virus started spreading in Africa, including neighboring Uganda and Kenya, Magufuli claimed the disease had been kicked off Tanzania after a three-day national prayer period. He discouraged and even prohibited mask wearing. Additionally, he did not impose any restrictions, including social distancing and hand-washing. The country does not record nor test COVID-19.
Critics have raised questions about the Magufuli’s health not only for his absence but also because at least one official close to him recently died. Exiled opposition leader Tundu Lissu, who was defeated by Magufuli in a general election held last year, in a series of tweets last week, claimed that Magufuli had been flown to Kenya then to India for COVID-19 treatment.
At least one man has been arrested in Dar-es-Salaam, the country’s largest city, for sharing similar posts on social media.
“There are a lot more who have been spreading false statements. We will arrest them all,” the police said in a statement.
On Friday, the country’s Prime Minister Hassan Majaliwa dismissed the rumors that the president is seeking COVID-19 treatment abroad. He claimed the president “has a lot to do” and has delegated some of his responsibilities to aides.
The Minister for constitutional affairs warned that spreading falsehoods on social media violates the country’s cybercrime law. According to human rights groups, Magufuli’s government has used the law to squash criticism.
“A head of state is not a head of a jogging club who should always be around taking selfies,” Constitutional Affairs Minister Mwigulu Nchemba wrote on social media.
“Those who are breaking the law, think about what the penal code says on cybercrime. The government is monitoring,” he added.
The once relatively democratic East-African country has gradually become authoritarian under President Magufuli.