South Africa Makes It A Crime To Spread False Information About COVID-19

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Written by Peter Pedroncelli
COVID-19
South Africa has made it a crime to spread false information about COVID-19 with punishment for circulating fake news including six months in jail. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

In South Africa, spreading fake news about the coronavirus is a criminal act that could land you in jail for six months.

As of March 23, there were 402 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in South Africa, up from 274 the day before. South Africa’s first case was confirmed on March 5.

Most of South Africa’s confirmed infections have been brought into the country by people who traveled to highly-infected areas in Europe and the U.S.

A new law states that intentionally spreading fake news about COVID-19, those infected with the virus or government efforts to address the virus is a crime, according to News24.

Anyone who intentionally exposes someone else to the coronavirus could also be charged with assault, attempted murder or murder.

It is not clear how the South African courts would prove that a person intentionally exposed the virus to another person.

Authorities also hope to halt the spread of the virus by legally enforcing testing, treatment, and quarantine or isolation of suspected cases, CNN reports.

A family in the Gauteng province who refused to be isolated in mid-March after testing positive for COVID-19 had to be brought in by the police after a court order was issued.

Critics have expressed concern over the newly passed regulations that criminalize disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, CNBCAfrica reported.

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The regulations could potentially prompt other countries to adopt more repressive rules and censorship against the press, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

“The COVID-19 pandemic must be taken seriously, but passing laws that emphasize criminalizing disinformation over educating the public and encouraging fact-checking present a slippery slope and send the wrong message to other countries that may be less measured in drafting such laws,” said Angela Quintal, coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists Africa program.