Monday, 4 May 2020

FAKE ED LOCKDOWN STATEMENT : TWO MORE ARRESTED


TWO Bulawayo women accused of peddling fake news on social media platform WhatsApp by sharing a false Press statement bearing President Mnangagwa’s signature announcing the extension of the lockdown period have been arrested.

The statement purportedly issued by President Mnangagwa was headlined: “Extension of lockdown period by 13 days only.”

Prisca Gumbo (44) of Mpopoma suburb and Renah Takudzwa Muhambi (20) of Hillside suburb appeared in court yesterday facing charges of publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the State as defined in section 31 (a) (i) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

They were both remanded out of custody by Bulawayo magistrate Mr Shepherd Mjanja.

Gumbo was released on $1 000 bail and ordered to report once every fortnight at Western Commonage Police Station as part of the bail condition.

She was also ordered to surrender her passport and to continue residing at her given address until the matter is finalised.

Muhambi was granted $500 bail and ordered to report once every two weeks at Hillside Police Station. She was also ordered not interfere with State witnesses as well as continue residing at her given address.

In granting them bail, Mr Mjanja ruled that the State failed to proffer compelling reasons warranting their continued detention pending trial.

Through their lawyer, Mr Tinashe Runganga of Tanaka Law Chambers, the two women said they were good candidates for bail. They argued that the State failed to advance compelling grounds justifying their continued detention.

The State, which was represented by Mr Carlington Dliwayo, had opposed the bail application, arguing there was no guarantee that if released, the two accused persons would not abscond due to the gravity of the offence.

“The accused persons are wary of the fact that upon conviction, they face up to 20 years in jail hence if released on bail they are likely to abscond,” he said.

The investigating officer, Zibusiso Moyo said there was likelihood the two accused persons would interfere with witnesses. He further argued that the accused persons had the propensity to commit further crimes if granted bail.

“Releasing the accused persons on bail is tantamount to trivialising the offence and undermining the effects of Covid-19 through spreading of fake news,” he said.

Mr Dliwayo said between April 7 and 10, Gumbo and Muhambi allegedly published a false Press statement purporting to have been issued and signed by the President.

The false statement with the President’s fake signature, was extending the lockdown period by 13 days from April 20 to May 3, 2020.

“Accused persons then circulated the fake document on different WhatsApp platforms using their cellphones. Gumbo used a Samsung JS1 with an Econet line while Muhambi used a Huawei with an Econet number to forward the fake message,” said Mr Dliwayo

According to the State, President Mnangagwa did not originate or sign the said fake statement.

Spreading fake news on social media and mainstream media about coronavirus (Covid-19) has been categorised as a Level 14 offence, the highest in the country and people convicted of the crime face up to 20 years in jail.

Recently, President Mnangagwa warned peddlers of falsehoods regarding coronavirus (Covid-19) issues saying they faced a 20-year jail term if convicted.

He said this at his Precabe Farm in Sherwood, Kwekwe, after returning from a tour of Mkoba and Senga suburbs in Gweru to assess residents’ levels of compliance to regulations of the previous 21-day lockdown.

The President dismissed as nonsensical, social media reports then claiming that he had extended the initial lockdown when no such decision had been made.

He then ordered an investigation into the origins of such messages circulating on social media. Lovemore Zvokusekwa (36) of Chitungwiza, the man who allegedly authored and circulated the fake statement was last week granted $1 000 bail coupled with stringent conditions after spending 10 days in remand prison.

The fake statement was circulated on social media platforms nearly two weeks ago when the country was still in the initial 21-day lockdown period. Chronicle

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