DemocracyWatch: famine and fake news

The second wave cometh.

9 September 2020, 7.00am
Amazon fire.

Across Europe, the second wave of the pandemic is under way, with infection rates rising from Italy to the UK. And in Yemen, Iraq, Kenya, Congo and Nigeria, famine is at the door, as the broader consequences of the crisis bed in.

‘Fake news’ laws have seen journalists across the world locked up, while misinformation has run amok, with conspiracy theories and COVID-denial bedding in. In Europe and the US, there have been mass protests against lockdown measures, while the police continue to kill people in Kenya under curfew laws.

Meanwhile, in the background, the Amazon and California burn, choking up people’s lungs and the lungs of the earth.

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Step forward

The Media Foundation for West Africa has had success fighting misinformation about the pandemic.

Step back

The world is on fire.


Proctoring apps subject students to unnecessary surveillance.

‘Vaccine nationalism’ will hinder efforts to combat the pandemic, the World Health Organization's director-general warned.

Sex industry workers around the world have been left vulnerable, with little entitlement to state support as a result of coronavirus restrictions.


Australia Mobile surveillance units have been deployed in parks and public spaces across Melbourne to monitor citizens remotely, fuelling fears that police and local councils were exceeding their authority.

Australia Police in Melbourne have arrested at least twenty people, including an Associated Press photographer, among a crowd of about 300 people protesting against the lockdown.

Azerbaijan Rights activists say seventeen opposition activists have been arrested on spurious charges including violating lockdown rules after attending an unsanctioned rally.

Cambodia Civil society organisations have called on the government to scrap a draft public order law, saying it would effectively criminalise freedom of expression, association and assembly.

China People in the Xinjiang region have said they dared not speak out against what they described as an excessively harsh lockdown. 

Indonesia A series of digital attacks have targeted media organisations, with the Tempo news site replaced by a black screen showing the word ‘hoax’. The same day, articles critical of the national intelligence agency’s role in the pandemic response were removed from the website of tirto.id.

Malaysia A Bangladeshi worker who criticised the government’s treatment of migrants in an Al-Jazeera documentary has been deported.

Thailand Authorities have been accused of using the pandemic as a pretext for harassing peaceful activists after police summoned five protest organisers for “breaching the emergency decree”.

Turkmenistan Relatives of prisoners who died of coronavirus have been forced to bribe warders to retrieve their bodies as authorities continued to deny the presence of the pandemic in the country.

Uzbekistan Anti-corruption officials have found that health ministry employees have embezzled more than $171,000 during the crisis, the chair of the senate said.

Middle East and North Africa

Egypt Two journalists have been arrested under terrorism charges as crackdown on reporting during the pandemic continued. 

Iraq Poverty caused by the pandemic is likely to increase the number of children forced to work or marry, researchers say. 

Israel Rows erupted between religious leaders and the government as new lockdown measures were announced, many targeting ultra-orthodox Jewish communities where infection rates are high. 

Israel Authorities have used the pandemic to justify expansion of mass surveillance of Palestinians, according to a report by the Arab Centre for Advancement of Social Media.

Palestine Doctors fear that Gaza’s ailing health system, gutted by the blockade and intra-Palestinian political feuding, will be unable to cope with an upsurge in virus cases.

Yemen A survey of households has found that two-thirds feared going hungry as coronavirus cases soared. 

Jordan Authorities have exploited the pandemic to disperse protests against the closure of the country’s Teachers Syndicate and mass arrests of its leadership, Human Rights Watch says.


South Africa As investigations into over 600 coronavirus-related contracts continued, the government has released a list of every company that has secured a deal after it emerged that a concession was awarded to the husband of the president’s spokeswoman.

South Africa Police enforcing lockdown rules killed a young boy with Down’s syndrome after he didn’t respond to questions from officers. 

Kenya Police enforcing the lockdown have killed twenty people since it began in March, with 500 complaints of police brutality, according to Amnesty International Kenya.

Madagascar Security forces opened fire on inmates trying to escape a prison, killing 22 and injuring eight, amid concerns that the country's dilapidated and overcrowded jails are becoming a breeding ground for the virus.

South Sudan, Nigeria, DR Congo and Yemen There are signs that the world’s poorest countries face famine as a result of the pandemic, UN officials warn.

Tanzania A newly passed law entrenches digital rights repression, prohibiting the publication of “content with information with regards to the outbreak of a deadly or contagious disease in the country or elsewhere without the approval of the respective authorities”.

Ghana A soldier assaulted cameraman Stanley Nii Blewu for taking pictures of a clean-up exercise.


US Methamphetamine seizures on the Mexican border have surged as coronavirus restrictions have sent prices soaring and spurred smuggling.

Brazil Indigenous protesters from the Kayapó tribe blocked a key grain highway in the Amazon state of Pará, saying the federal government has failed to protect them from the pandemic.

Bolivia Thousands of protesters allied with the former president Evo Morales set up nearly 150 roadblocks nationwide demanding elections after the government again delayed voting because of the pandemic.

Chile Police are using coronavirus quarantine as pretext to crush protests as demonstrations over hunger by people thrown out of work by the pandemic met with violent repression, activists say.

Colombia Armed groups have reportedly imposed their own quarantine restrictions and killed at least thirty people for alleged violations.

Honduras Transport workers blocked major road junctions throughout the country in a protest over lockdown measures that restricted their operations to no more than 50% of capacity.

Venezuela Security forces and authorities are using measures to curb the spread of coronavirus as an excuse to crack down on dissent and intensify control, Human Rights Watch says.


Germany Extremists and corona-sceptics attempted to enter the parliament building after police shut down their demonstration.

Germany Millions of data entries regarding restaurant reservations, orders and coronavirus contact tracing information have been available online due to gaps in the security system of a gastronomy services software company, according to a report by the Chaos Computer Club.

Italy Residents of the southern town of Amantea staged a protest after 25 migrants tested positive for the coronavirus at the town's migrant reception center.

Poland The health minister and his deputy have resigned after their department was criticised for its handling of the coronavirus crisis, and alleged irregularities in buying masks and the purchase of ventilators that did not arrive.

Turkey The opposition-aligned mayors of the country's two largest cities have accused the government of a coronavirus cover-up, saying official statistics did not reflect reality. 

Romania The government's emergency rules during the crisis have resulted in excessive clampdowns on free speech, according to a report by the Center for Independent Journalism.

Greece Exploitation of undocumented migrant strawberry pickers has increased during the pandemic, campaigners warned.

UK The government has been criticised for awarding more contracts to firms connected to the Vote Leave campaign without an open tender process.

Slovenia Prime Minister Janez Janša has been criticised for inflammatory attacks against journalists and his willingness to denounce critical reporting as #FakeNews.

Climate and environment

Kenya Poverty resulting from the pandemic was pushing people to hunt rare species, including giraffes, for meat, rangers said.

Ecuador Illegal loggers have carried coronavirus to remote Amazon tribes, the president of the Achuar Nation said, as the community reported its first deaths from the virus.

Indonesia Following the collapse of a landfill in May, masses of COVID-19 medical waste are polluting the Cisadane River, posing serious health risks to communities living along it.

UK At least 400,000 chickens are being culled as COVID-19 infections disrupt slaughterhouse routines.

Good news

Spain Migrant fruit pickers who tested positive to coronavirus have been given space to convalesce on a farm.

Australia Scientists partnered with tourism operators to survey coral reefs they were unable to reach during lockdown.

Kenya Women are leading a movement against police brutality.

Ukrainian journalists share their stories of war

Hear Igor Burdyga and Kateryna Semchuk explain what it's like working in a homeland under threat. Plus British author Oliver Bullough and chair Daniel Trilling.

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