Tanzania’s minister for legal affairs on Thursday threatened those spreading “nonsense” rumours over the health of President John Magufuli with jail, without offering details of the leader’s whereabouts.
Tanzania’s opposition leader Tundu Lissu has demanded information on where Magufuli is, suggesting the president is sick with Covid-19 and fuelling a storm of rumours on social media in recent days.
Magufuli has not been seen in public since February 27, and much of the speculation has come from his unusual absence from two Sunday church services and his skipping a regional summit of heads of state.
“The country’s leader is not a parish worker who should always appear in church duties. The country’s leader is not a TV host whose absence in a show you can question. The country’s leader is not a leader of a jogging club who should always appear in the streets,” the minister Mwigulu Nchemba posted on Twitter.
Lissu wrote on Twitter earlier this week that “the president’s wellbeing is a matter of grave public concern”.
Commenting on Lissu’s posts, Nchemba warned of the country’s stiff cybercrimes laws, such as the publication of “false information” which can lead to a three-year jail term.
“Let’s stop this nonsense even if we have nothing to do.”
Information Minister Innocent Bashungwa again warned about “using rumours to spark panic in the country.”
Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper reported Wednesday that “an African leader” from a neighbouring country was admitted to a Nairobi hospital.
However despite the mounting pressure, no official statement on the exact whereabouts of Magufuli has been forthcoming.
Magufuli insisted for months that Covid-19 had been fended off by prayer, refusing measures such as masks and lockdowns, but last month conceded it was still circulating after the vice-president of semi-autonomous Zanzibar was revealed to have died of the virus.
Magufuli revealed that some of his aides and family members had contracted Covid-19 but recovered.
“Let us all depend on God as we also take other preventive measures. I put God first and that is why I do not wear a mask,” he has said.
Several Tanzanian officials have died recently, while the finance minister appeared last month coughing and gasping at a press conference outside a hospital to dispel rumours he had died of Covid-19.
Tanzania stopped releasing data on Covid-19 in April 2020 and in January Magufuli said vaccines for the disease were “dangerous”.