DemocracyWatch: Imagine living through civil war as well as the pandemic

People in Libya are facing shells and kidnappings as well as the virus...

20 May 2020, 7.00am
Cleaning operations carried out by the municipality in Qamishlo, April 2020
| Courtesy of Rojava Information Center (RIC)

While every country on earth has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, the people of – and currently in – Libya have perhaps suffered more than any others. 

In recent weeks, the civil war that has raged in the country for nearly a decade has intensified. Hospitals have been bombed. Locked-down residential districts have been shelled. Hundreds of thousands of migrants who seek to cross the Mediterranean through the country are stranded, with no legal status, awaiting the the virus.

The warring administrations of different regions have their own various lockdown restrictions and the roads are littered with fake checkpoints where travellers are hijacked or kidnapped for ransom, placing anyone going in search of supplies or medical care in danger. Conflicts can erupt at any point.

Since the start of the outbreak, openDemocracy has been working with Lawyers for Justice in Libya to highlight the fate of those in a country caught between conflict and pandemic. On Thursday, our weekly live discussion will focus on the country. Details are below. Do please join us.

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Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, law firms have been advertising their services to multinational corporations, offering to sue governments over anti-COVID measures which they believe may have cost them profits.

Every week, SourceMaterial, openDemocracy and Privacy International are compiling attacks on democracy, human rights and civil liberties around the world as a result of the pandemic. You can read this week’s update below.

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Germany Police detained 200 people in Berlin at several parallel protests, some against anti-infection measures and others decrying conspiracy theories. 

Germany There were outbreaks of the virus in a number of accommodation centres for asylum seekers.

Poland The state-run Programme Three deleted its weekly music chart after a song criticising Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), reached Number One. 

Poland Police fired tear gas and used force to break up a rally in Warsaw as hundreds of participants called on the government to lift restrictions on businesses.

Russia Officials defended the country against claims that its unusually low coronavirus mortality rate was suspicious.

Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said he expected his government to be able to give back to the national parliament at the end of May the sweeping powers enacted during the coronavirus crisis.

Albania The government demolished the National Theatre as protesters condemned the decision to act on plans disputed for two years during the lockdown.

UK Pregnant women and new mothers faced redundancy during the coronavirus crisis due to discrimination, the Equality and Human Rights Commission warned.

UK A Christian TV channel aired “potentially harmful” coronavirus conspiracy theories, the UK’s broadcasting regulator ruled.

UK Legal companies were criticised for offering to sue governments over coronavirus measures which multinational corporations believe have cost them profits.

Spain Some Roma families received threats from neighbours and through social media after local politicians blamed the minority for the spread of the virus.

Montenegro Police arrested dozens of demonstrators demanding the release of priests detained after leading a religious procession in disregard to the lockdown regulations. 

France The high court banned police from using drones to monitor the public during the pandemic.

Romania Maternity checks were suspended and women with confirmed or suspected coronavirus were separated from newborn babies until they had had two consecutive negative coronavirus tests, a process that takes weeks, and were not allowed to breastfeed. 

Greece Refugees in crowded camps in Lesbos tested positive for coronavirus, leading to calls for better medical facilities on the island.

Greece Authorities forcibly entered a Roma camp and removed 35 people who tested positive for coronavirus. 

Armenia The government retroactively expanded coronavirus emergency spending to cover purchases made from a single supplier without tender dating back to January, raising suspicions of corruption.


China Uighur people are being forced to work during the pandemic to make up for the labour lost from other people under lockdown.

India Police in Ahmedabad, western Gujarat, detained journalist Dhaval Patel and charged him with sedition and spreading false news after he wrote that the state’s chief minister may be replaced over his handling of the health crisis.

Bangladesh A Rohingya refugee became the first person to test positive for coronavirus in the country’s refugee camps, prompting fears that the pandemic could race through the unsanitary settlements that house almost a million people.  

Bangladesh More than a million garment workers were fired or furloughed, with 98% of buyers refusing to contribute to salaries, a report found.  

Malaysia The government cited the pandemic in deciding to convene Parliament only for an address by the king and not for a scheduled no-confidence vote against the prime minister.  

Nepal Police fired live rounds into the air to deter Indian farmers trying to cross the border to harvest their corn amid the coronavirus lockdown. 

South Korea Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender poeple were experiencing a marked increase in online threats and discrimination after being unfairly accused of spreading the coronavirus, Human Rights Watch said.

Thailand Bangkok police arrested pro-democracy activist Anurak Jeantawanich for violating the ban on public assembly imposed to prevent the spread of the virus. 

Tajikistan A website publishing an alternative to the health ministry’s official death count suggested the government covered up early instances of the virus, with the country now on track to suffer the region’s worst outbreak. 

Tajikistan A journalist covering the government's apparent suppression of news about infections for Asia-Plus, one of the country’s few independent media outlets, was beaten by unknown assailants.

Afghanistan The Taliban rejected the Kabul government’s request for a ceasefire so that both sides of the civil war could focus on fighting coronavirus.  

Myanmar Transparency groups have criticised proposed legislation which they say would restrict access to information about the pandemic and potentially undermine the response to the virus.  

Australia Airline Qantas did not have to pay sick leave to the 25,000 workers that it temporarily stood down due to the pandemic, the Federal Court ruled. 

Australia Aboriginal health groups said that the Queensland state government was holding back a programme of rapid coronavirus testing in remote communities.  

Middle East & North Africa

Egypt Haisam Hasan Mahgoub, a journalist for the news organisation Al-Masry al-Youm, was detained for fifteen days pending an investigation for violating the nationwide coronavirus curfew. 

Morocco A young woman was jailed for two months for a satirical video about local authorities' response to the crisis.  

Tunisia Blogger Emna Chargui was charged with “inciting hatred between religions through hostile means or violence” for a Facebook post about the virus in the style of a Quranic sura.  

Qatar The country began enforcing the penalties of up to three years' imprisonment for failing to wear masks in public. 

Syria The government deployed secret police in hospitals to control information about infection rates as authorities used a coronavirus prevention app to introduce spyware into citizens' phones, observers said. 

Syria The UN and World Health Organization refused to work with the autonomous administration of North and East Syria, also known as Rojava, which comprises a third of Syrian territory and includes roughly 600,000 displaced people.  

Yemen The UN refugee agency said it was being forced to shut lifeline facilities in Yemen, “leaving 3.6 million internally displaced and 280,000 refugees without any form of assistance”.  

Syria Two months since announcing a coronavirus amnesty for prisoners, the government had released only 96 of nearly 130,000 detainees and arrested 113 more. 


Burundi The government expelled the country representative of the World Health Organization and three of its experts. 

Burundi The government imposed a two-week quarantine on election monitors from other East African nations, effectively preventing them from entering Burundi prior to a vote set for 20 May. 

Democratic Republic of the Congo Fear of coronavirus infection was likely to reduce visits to clinics for child vaccinations, increasing the risk of polio and other illnesses, the United Nations warned

Democratic Republic of the Congo People in remote communities in the country reported that militia groups were occupying roads they relied on for supplies during the pandemic.  

Cameroon Six volunteers for a fundraising initiative launched by opposition leader Maurice Kamto were arrested while handing out free protective masks and sanitising gel. They face charges of rebellion, punishable by up to four years in prison.

Swaziland A journalist for Swaziland News fled to South Africa when police issued a warrant for his arrest for spreading fake news about the virus after he published articles critical of King Mswati III. 

Zimbabwe Three female leaders from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change – Alliance remained unaccounted for after their arrest at a roadblock following a protest against lack of protection for the poor during the coronavirus lockdown. 

Sudan The Sovereign Council, composed partially of military figures, attempted to dismiss the health minister. 

Western Sahara Rights activists called on Morocco to release political prisoners from the region as the virus runs through the country’s jails.  


US Organisations conducting research into the virus could be targeted by hackers linked to the Chinese government, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security said. 

US The Navajo nation has surpassed New York for the highest coronavirus infection rate in the country, while the South Dakota Sioux nation has refused to remove coronavirus checkpoints.

Brazil Nelson Teich became the second health minister to resign in less than a month following disagreements over the government's handling of the country's escalating coronavirus crisis. 

Brazil Police in Rio de Janeiro continued armed raids on the city’s favelas despite the lockdown.

Ecuador Members of indigenous communities who fell ill from one of the worst Amazon oil spills in fifteen years said they had been refused treatment because of fears over the coronavirus. 

El Salvador A constitutional crisis threatened after the country’s attorney-general promised a Supreme Court challenge to President Nayib Bukele’s extension of a state of emergency decree. 

Venezuela A senior official sought an investigation of the nation’s academy of scientists for publishing research that questioned official figures on coronavirus cases. 

Climate and environment

US More than $1.9 billion in coronavirus tax relief were claimed by at least 37 oil companies, according to a Bloomberg News analysis.  

Canada Work on a gas pipeline through unceded indigenous territory continued despite the suspension of negotiations because of the pandemic.  

India The government introduced measures to boost private investment in coal mining and gasification as part of a coronavirus stimulus. 

Pakistan The government restarted a reforestation programme to keep laid off workers in employment. 

Global The coal industry will never recover from the pandemic, experts say.

Good news

Israel Quarantined together in hotels, 200 religious and secular Israelis and Palestinians got along

Niger Refugees from Libya set up a mini-factory producing soap, hand sanitiser and bleach for free distribution.  

France Coronavirus brought migrants together with wine growers in the south of France.  

Jordan Random testing in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan found no cases of coronavirus.  

Slovakia Restrictions were lifted from a Roma settlement forced into lockdown by the government.  

Bolivia The government backed down from legislation set to broaden criminal sanctions for disinformation on the coronavirus. 

Humans of COVID-19

“I’m an informal market trader in South Africa and the breadwinner in our family of four. But now I can’t afford even a single loaf of bread.” openDemocracy brings you the personal stories of people experiencing the pandemic around the world.

Dial in live discussion: Libya: between conflict and pandemic, what hope for human rights?

In Libya, despite a collapsed health system, conflict has intensified. People are trapped between fighting and the threat of the coronavirus.

How can countries in conflict tackle the spread of the coronavirus? How far should their people give up personal freedoms and human rights? And what can international law do?

Join Lawyers for Justice in Libya and openDemocracy to discuss Libya's dilemmas on 21 May at 1pm UK time/2pm CET.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


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