Tanzania Arrests Lawyer for Saying Coronavirus a ‘Real Threat’

A condemned inmate stands with handcuffs on as he preapres to be released from the exercise yard back to his cell at San Quentin State Prison's death row on August 15, 2016 in San Quentin, California. San Quentin State Prison opened in 1852 and is California's oldest penitentiary. The facility …
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Police arrested a prominent lawyer in Tanzania on Wednesday for saying the Chinese coronavirus was “serious” and “a real threat,” Tanzanian newspaper The Citizen reported.

Arusha Regional Police Commander Koka Moita confirmed to The Citizen that Albert Msando was being detained at the Arusha Central police station on Wednesday night.

Moita said Msando “was being interrogated over statements he made regarding Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus],” but did not elaborate, according to the newspaper. The Citizen quoted a source who said Msando drove himself to the police station that evening after receiving a summons from authorities.

According to the newspaper, Msando’s arrest followed shortly after Arusha Regional Commissioner Mrisho Gambo ordered the police to arrest any person communicating “conflicting public information on coronavirus,” presumably information which conflicts with the official government statements on the matter.

On Tuesday, Msando said the coronavirus pandemic was serious and a real threat in Arusha, and that the city was reeling from the pandemic. He urged journalists to report truthfully on what was happening regarding the city’s coronavirus outbreak so that proper preventive measures could be taken by the public, The Citizen reported.

These comments were made after Msando handed out masks and hand sanitizer to Arusha journalists so that they could protect themselves from the virus, the newspaper added.

News of Msando’s detention comes on the same day Tanzanian President John Magufuli was criticized most recently for failing to take the threat of the coronavirus pandemic seriously. On Wednesday, Tanzania’s main political opposition said the president was in a “state of denial” about the worsening situation in Tanzania regarding the coronavirus, where the number of cases has surged dramatically over the past few weeks, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

On March 16, Tanzania recorded its first case of coronavirus. In a little over two weeks, the number of cases has surged from 32 to 480 at press time on Thursday, with 16 deaths.

Tanzania remains one of the few African countries not taking extensive measures against the coronavirus pandemic yet. Schools and universities in the country have closed but markets, public transportation, and shops remain open.

Freeman Mbowe, of the opposition Chadema party, accused the government of hiding information about the coronavirus in a speech broadcast online on Wednesday, AFP reported.

“We see people dying and their burials are supervised by the government under strict conditions but yet it is not telling us they died of coronavirus. There is no transparency and when people have no information, you provide room for rumors. The government is telling us only 16 [people] died of coronavirus but this is a joke,” he said. The president was in a “state of denial,” Mbowe added.

Last month, Magufuli claimed God would protect Tanzanians from the coronavirus, not facemasks. He has urged people to keep going about their routines as usual. “This is time to build our faith and continue praying to God and not depending on facemasks. Don’t stop going to churches and mosques for prayers. I’m sure this is just a change of wind and it will go like others have gone,” Magufuli said at a church in Dodoma in March.

Magufuli has also faced criticism for his alleged censoring of the media and critics during his rule.

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