Police in Tanzania have arrested four people on suspicion of spreading rumours on social media that President John Magufuli is ill, reports BBC News. The 61-year-old leader has not been seen in public for more than two weeks.
Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said last week that Magufuli was "healthy and working hard". But opposition politicians have said he's in a serious condition after contracting COVID-19 and had been flown abroad for treatment.
"To spread rumours that he's sick smacks of hate," Majaliwa said, adding that he had spoken to him on the phone and that he had sent his greetings to the public.
The report says Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan has told Tanzanians not to listen to rumours and urged them to remain united. "It's quite normal for anybody to be afflicted by illness, to contract flu or a fever… this is the time for Tanzanians to be united through prayer," she said, without elaborating who she was talking about.
Speculation about the president's health grows as each day passes, correspondents say.
Magufuli has been accused of playing down the threat posed by the coronavirus and has been criticised for encouraging Tanzanians to rely on prayers, steam therapy and herbal remedies.
An opposition leader said Tanzanians had become fearful due to lack of information about the health of Magufuli, who has not been seen in public for more than two weeks, and citizens had the right to know about his condition. "It is important for the government to inform the public about the president’s health to reduce ongoing fear," Zitto Kabwe, leader of the ACT-Wazalendo party, is quoted in a Polity report as saying.
"The president's health is not supposed to be a secret," he said, recalling that Tanzanians received regular updates on the health of two former presidents, Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete, when they were abroad for medical treatment.
Polity reports that government spokesperson Hassan Abbasi did not return calls and messages seeking comment.
Another opposition politician, Tundu Lissu, who lost an election last year to Magufuli, said last week from exile in Belgium that the president is in India receiving medical treatment for the virus and is in a serious condition.
India's immigration service records do not show anybody by the name of John Magufuli entering the country, and air ambulance flight records do not show a flight from East Africa since February 1, an Indian government source is quoted in the report as saying.
Full BBC News report (Open access)
Full Polity report (Open access)
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