Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa threatened 20 years in jail for the author of a statement purporting to bear his signature saying the lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak was extended.
Mnangagwa, speaking at his farm after touring Gweru, told state broadcaster ZBC the statement, on social media last week and immediately denied by government, was fake.
“That is absolute nonsense, I never made such a statement,” Mnangagwa said.
“If we catch this person it must be an example and they must go in for at least level 14, 20 years imprisonment. I think we need to demonstrate we don’t want false news circulated.”
The southern African nation last month published lockdown regulations, including jail terms of up to 20 years for spreading falsehoods regarding the outbreak.
National police spokesman Paul Nyathi said more than 5 000 people were arrested for venturing outside their homes without permission.
Mnangagwa said his cabinet would meet to decide whether to end, adjust or extend the 21 day lockdown.
Authorities said three people died and 17 are infected in the country of 15 million people. Just over 600 people had been tested by Monday.
Zimbabwe deployed the army to help police enforce the restrictions last week.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said this resulted in an increase in residents beaten by security forces for defying the lockdown.
Police spokesman Nyathi said police had not received official complaints of abuse.
ZLHR approached the High Court on behalf of two Zimbabweans who said they were abused by security forces.
“This application seeks an order to protect residents from heavy-handed action by police and soldiers invading peoples’ homes/yards and assaulting people ordering them to stay indoors,” ZLHR said in a statement.
In an editorial on Monday, the state-owned Herald newspaper criticised police for harassing journalists working during the lockdown, including forcing some to delete pictures and video that captured abuses by security forces.
Nyathi said he was not aware of the incidents.