Tanzanian police have arrested a man for circulating posts saying that President John Magufuli is in ill health. Magufuli has not been seen in public for two weeks, sparking unconfirmed reports from opposition leaders that he is unwell and incapacitated.
At least one man was arrested for allegedly spreading false reports that Magufuli was seriously ill in the Kinondoni area of Dar es Salaam, Regional Police Commissioner for Kinondoni Ramadhani Kingai said at a press conference Saturday.
"There are a lot more who have been spreading false statements. We will arrest them all,” Kingai said.
Prime Minister Hassan Majaliwa has denied that Magufuli is unwell or battling COVID-19. The prime minister said Friday that Magufuli, who has not been seen in public for 15 days, had asked him to convey his greetings to residents in the country’s southern town of Njombe.
"The president has a lot to do,” he said, adding that the president had delegated some duties to his aides.
The constitutional affairs minister said Tanzanians who are posting on social media that the president is incapacitated are violating the country's cybercrime law.
Human rights groups say the cybercrime law is one of several that Magufuli's government uses to suppress freedom of expression.
"A head of state is not a head of a jogging club who should always be around taking selfies,” Constitutional Affairs Minister Mwigulu Nchemba posted on his social media accounts.
"Those who are breaking the law, think about what the penal code says on cybercrime. The government is monitoring,” he said.
Magufuli is one of Africa’s most prominent COVID-19 skeptics. Last year he said the disease had been eradicated from Tanzania by three days of national prayer. He cast doubt on tests to determine COVID-19, discouraged Tanzanians from wearing masks, keeping a distance from others, and the use of vaccines to combat the disease.
Magufuli’s absence is unusual as he is known for frequent public speeches and appearances on state television several times a week. Opposition politicians raised questions about the president’s health after at least one official close to him died recently.
Magufuli was last seen in public on Feb. 27 at the swearing-in ceremony of his chief of staff. The event was at the State House government offices in Dar es Salaam, the East African country’s largest city.
Exiled opposition leader Tundu Lissu, who lost the October presidential election to Magufuli, claimed in a series of tweets last week that the president had been flown to India in critical condition after first being taken to neighboring Kenya for COVID-19 treatment.
Lissu lives in Belgium after a government crackdown on opposition politicians who were calling for peaceful protests over alleged massive voting irregularities.