Worldwide police-state measures in face of COVID-19

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With whole nations under lockdown, sweeping powers are being assumed by governments across the world in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungary’s parliament on March 30 voted to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree, without a set time limit. While the emergency legislation remains in place, all elections are suspended, as are several government regulations including (ironically) some concerned with protecting public health. Individuals who spread what is deemed false or distorted information may face up to five years in prison. Other measures include up to three years in prison for anyone who disregards quarantine orders. (Jurist, Politico)

Russia’s parliament the following day approved an “anti-virus” package that imposes up to seven years imprisonment for serious violations of quarantine rules. (BBC News) Army troops have been deployed to assist police in enforcing the lockdown in Italy and Romania—where those ordered into quarantine are being fitted with electronic monitoring devices. (DW)

Israel has now joined South Korea and Singapore in authorizing use of personal cellphone location data to track the virus. Methods long used by the Shin Bet security service to monitor Palestinian militants are now being used to track the movements and social contacts of those who have tested positive for COVID-19. Mobile carriers in the European Union are sharing information with health authorities in Italy, Germany and Austria to help monitor whether people are following quarantine instructions—although under EU regs, this is ostensibly limited to anonymous and aggregated data. (The Verge, NYT)

Chilean President Sebastian Piñera on March 18 declared a 90-day “state of catastrophe,” sending the military to public squares recently occupied by protesters. A nationwide curfew has been imposed, enforced by army troops. The plebiscite on a new constitution, originally scheduled for April, has been put of until October. (NYT, NPR, Jurist)

A nationwide nighttime curfew and general “stay at home” order have also been declared in Peru, with a penalty of 10 years imprisonment for violating the orders—or 20 years if COVID-19 transmission is determined to result. An intimidating army demonstration video emphasizes that troops are empowered to use “legitimate force” against lockdown violators. (América Económica, Correo)

Military patrols are also enforcing the lockdown in South Africa. Before the lockdown took effect March 27, long lines formed outside groceries and supermarkets. Police used rubber bullets to disperse people lined up outside a store in Johannesburg, ostensibly because they were standing too close to each other. (NPR, MarketWatch)

What had been hailed as Ethiopia’s first democratic elections, scheduled for August, have now been indefinitely postponed. (AP)

Images of police brutalization of lockdown volators in India have gone viral on social media, sparking a public outcry. Authorities have launched an inquiry into the death of an ambulance driver who was allegedly beaten by police in the city of Pune. (DW)

Ironically, amid all this, some leaders appear to be in simple denial about the magnitude of the crisis. With Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo under lockdown, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonarois dismissing the “hysteria” over the virus and urging citizens to return to work. (Reuters) Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko opts for the word “psychosis,” and suggests COVID-19 can be knocked out wth a shot of vodka. (NBC) In more closed countries, the denialism itself is being imposed in authoritarian manner. In Turkmenistan, the government has actually banned use of the word “coronavirus” from all official media—which basically means all media. (Reporters Without Borders)

“We could have a parallel epidemic of authoritarian and repressive measures following close if not on the heels of a health epidemic,” said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the UN Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. (NYT)

Photo: Peruvian army demonstration video, via YouTube