Rulers around the world have realized that now is the perfect time to apply measures that reduce individual rights and freedoms, in the knowledge that the rest of the world will barely notice them and that their ruled, gripped by fear, will suffer them as necessary measures to combat the pandemic.
People everywhere are afraid. Many want to be guided towards safety and coercive tools are being adapted with the excuse of protecting public health.
Here are a few examples:
Cina and Hong Kong
Since Great Britain returned territory to China in 1997, Hong Kong has been governed under the formula of “one country, two systems”. In general, its citizens enjoy the benefits of free speech, free assembly and the rule of law. Foreign companies have always felt safe there, which is why Hong Kong is an important financial center. But the Chinese Communist Party has long been craving to crush the culture of Hong Kong protest. Article 22 of the Basic Law (a kind of mini-constitution) prohibits Chinese government offices from interfering in Hong Kong’s internal affairs. It was always understood that it included his liaison office in Hong Kong. But on April 17, the office – China’s main representative body in the area – said it was not bound by article 22 and this could be the pick to unhinge fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong.
The prime minister, Viktor Orban can rule by decree, based on a new law officially passed to combat coronavirus. Indeed, he has become a dictator and will remain so until the parliament withdraws his new powers. Since parliament is controlled by its party, this could continue indefinitely, despite Hungary being a member of the European Union, a “club” of democratic countries.
To vote, citizens need a biometric “voter ID” distributed by the authorities and are now strangely missing from opposition supporters who boycotted a recent election.
The ruling party is fueling Hindu support by portraying Muslims as vectors of covid-19.
Those who, according to the government, spread fake news now face up to 20 years in prison. The authorities get to decide what is “false” .
United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Oman, Yemen
All these countries have banned the printing and distribution of newspapers, claiming that they could transmit the virus.
Coronavirus and freedom
In many countries covid-19 will make people poorer, sicker and angrier. Although some leaders exploit the pandemic, their inability to cope with popular suffering could act against the myth that they and their regimes are impregnable. Coronavirus is impervious to propaganda and secret police. In countries where the police are happy to be able to arbitrarily impose punishment and blockade, the regime may lose power over popular anger. For the time being, however, the trend is in the opposite direction. Unscrupulous autocrats are using the pandemic to do what they always do: increase their power at the expense of the people they govern.