Pandemic breeds repression, censorship and violence on the periphery of the world

1 million cases, more than 50,000 deaths and billions confined. If the pandemic has led countries like France, China, Italy or Spain to rely on an elaborate supply strategy, the imposition of restrictions and quarantines across the world has also turned into violence and chaos. While cities like Paris, Rome or Barcelona, ​​the birds are again heard by residents, on the periphery of the world the sound is of police action, censorship against the press and acts that have left the UN and human rights entities alarmed.
This week, the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, gave orders for the police to shoot anyone demonstrating during the imposed forty. On April 1, in a televised speech, he warned: “I will not hesitate”. “Instead of causing problems, I will send you to the grave,” he said. The Philippine National Police has indicated that more than 17,000 people have already been detained for violations related to confinement orders.

Entities also point out that reports of inhuman punishments against people who violate the quarantine have emerged. Some were forced to sit for hours in the hot sun or be held in dog cages.
Residents of certain areas told Amnesty International that the police have resorted to the violent dispersion of protesters and hit them with wooden sticks. According to the NGO, in one location, the victims included a man with his baby who was in the area to collect financial aid.
Human Rights Watch drew attention to the fact that such a detention action is very likely to be counterproductive, as offenders are then placed in overcrowded detention facilities, and more likely to be contaminated.

For the director of the Philippine section of Amnesty, Butch Olano, “it is deeply alarming that President Duterte has extended his“ shoot to kill ”policy. “Lethal and uncontrolled force should never be used in an emergency like the pandemic,” he said.
“The abusive methods used to punish those accused of violating the quarantine and the vast number of mass arrests that have been carried out to date, mainly against poor people, are other examples of the oppressive approach that the government takes against those who fight against basic needs, ”he declared.

In a note sent to governments, the chairmen of the ten UN committees on human rights warned that the authorities must “guarantee respect for human rights”, even when the situation is a health emergency.

Hilary Gbedemah, who represents the UN committees, indicated that an increasing number of states have imposed strict controls that affect human rights, such as limitations on freedom of movement and restrictions on peaceful assemblies and privacy.

“These controls must be carried out in accordance with a valid legal framework. In countries that declare a state of emergency, this declaration must be exceptional and temporary, strictly necessary and justified due to a threat to the life of the nation, ”said Gbedemah.
“The state of emergency, or any other security measures, must be guided by human rights principles and must under no circumstances be used as an excuse to end dissent,” he added.

Migrants
In fact, the situation of police violence goes far beyond Duterte. In India, government action to disinfect a neighborhood ended in chaos after part of the population was exposed to chemicals.
On social media, dozens of videos have circulated since the beginning of the week with images of police officers beating people who did not comply with the quarantine with batons, which led one of the opposition leaders, Shashi Tharoor, to write a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to call on him to end police violence.

But it was the situation of the millions of migrants that generated the most tension. Following the quarantine announcement, many people were left without work and unable to pay rent and food. With no capacity to support themselves in urban centers and faced with the suspension of public transport, hundreds of thousands of migrant men, women and children were forced to travel hundreds of kilometers on foot, trying to reach their villages and states of origin. Some died while making the trip.

On March 29, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus, the Ministry of the Interior issued an order to the states to intercept migrants on their return home and demand their quarantine for a period of two weeks.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she was “distressed” with the plight of millions of affected migrants.
“Confinement in India represents a huge logistical and implementation challenge, given the size of the population and its density, and we all hope that the spread of the virus can be verified,” said the High Commissioner. “However, it is important to ensure that measures in response to COVID-19 are not applied in a discriminatory manner or aggravate existing inequalities and vulnerabilities,” he warned.

In some states, police are still stamping the hands of quarantined people, supposedly to guarantee their stay at home, and pasting notices on the doors of homes.
Censorship against the press also took place in different countries and prompted governments like Egypt to withdraw accreditation from foreign journalists who had questioned the real number of cases of the disease. In Hungary, the government passed a law that allows for five years’ imprisonment for a journalist who broadcasts false news. And who defines what is false news is the government.

Measures to restrict access to information have also been established in Turkey, Cambodia, China, Thailand, Russia, Iran, Honduras and Singapore.

Gas and Cough
In Africa, the situation is especially tense. In South Africa, activists have denounced the excess force used in Soweto and investigations are ongoing on the suspicion that three people died as a result of an operation to implement the quarantine. In total, at least 55 people have already been detained in the country for not respecting the rules of social distance.

Young people were also humiliated by forces of order and rubber bullets, tear gas and whips have been used to maintain social distance in the shopping queues. “It seems to be the only way for the authorities to deal with the population, through violence and humiliation,” said Shenilla Mohamed, executive director of Amnesty International for South Africa.

In Dakar, Senegal, complaints were also made about the violent way in which the police began to implement quarantine. The violent operations would take place mainly during the night.
In Rwanda, one of the first countries to impose a quarantine in Africa, two people were killed this week after defying the police.

In Niger, 15 militants were detained by the government, on the grounds that they were violating the recommendations not to hold public events. The case occurred days before the country had its first confirmed case of the virus.

Earlier this week, Kenya’s police attempt to quarantine one of the neighborhoods in the capital Nairobi resulted in violence. The curfew ended up leading to an exchange of fire between residents and the police, accused of having entered the region by beating anyone who was out of the house. At least one 13-year-old boy died.

In Kisumu, in the west of the country, the police clashed with shop owners and street vendors over the order that they should abandon their business.
Meanwhile, in the port city of Mombasa, the police used tear gas to enforce quarantine. The result: dozens of people coughing because of the effect of the gas, in a region of great agglomeration.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store