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DemocracyWatch: The pandemic is a long way from being over

COVID-19 is only just arriving in some of the world's poorest communities.

1 July 2020
An aid truck in Darfur
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Save the Children

The worst has happened. A global pandemic which hit the world’s major powers first has swept into some of the poorest countries on the planet. In the war zones of Yemen and Sudan, the virus seems to be bedding in. In Peru, Ecuador and Chile, India, Pakistan and South Africa, lockdowns are fraying as poverty makes them almost impossible. 

The virus is taking hold in the favelas, the refugee camps and the remote, indigenous communities of the world. The official global death toll has passed half a million, with experts largely agreeing that the real number is likely to be much higher than that.

As those of us who live in wealthier countries celebrate or worry about the easing of lockdown, it’s important to remember that this global pandemic is far from over, and we’re only just starting to understand the attacks on democracy it has brought: a new study this week has found that nearly half of UN member states have restricted media coverage of the pandemic. 

Welcome to DemocracyWatch, the now fortnightly newsletter from SourceMaterial and openDemocracy, looking at attacks on democracy, civil liberties and human rights around the world during the pandemic. You can read today’s update below. 

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Europe

Europe and North America Cybercriminals are deploying hacking software disguised as training packages to ease remote workers back into office life. 

Europe Roma people across the continent face discriminatory enforcement of coronavirus lockdowns, Amnesty International said.

Europe Far-right terror groups have intensified their activities amidst the pandemic, according to Europol and European intelligence services.

EU Officials have argued over how to fund investigations of alleged misinformation from the Chinese government.

EU The pandemic has caused an 87% drop in asylum applications in recent months.

Germany The government said it would do more to protect migrant workers after coronavirus infections in slaughterhouses brought to light their poor working conditions.

UK Hate crimes against Chinese people in Yorkshire increased in the early days of the pandemic.

UK Gypsy, Roma and Traveller campaigners have called on the government to stop evictions from sites in England during the pandemic. 

Romania The head of the state-owned company responsible for procuring coronavirus medical equipment has been accused of bribery and abuse of office.

Poland Politicians across the EU have raised concerns about Poland becoming one of the biggest recipients of coronavirus rescue funds despite a record of attacks on the judiciary and LGBT rights.

Italy A million Italians could be pushed into poverty by the pandemic by delays to subsidies and government-backed loans, according to a farmers' association.

Russia Journalists reporting on the authorities' handling of the pandemic have faced fines and investigations under new ‘fake news’ laws.

Russia Official coronavirus statistics showed infection rates falling in time for a referendum on constitutional changes, leading some to speculate that the numbers have been falsified.

Turkey Coronavirus restrictions have been invoked to prevent journalists attending trials of political prisoners. 

Turkey Opposition parties have urged the government to explain how coronavirus relief funds raised in a campaign launched by the president had been spent.

Ukraine In the war-torn Donbas region, the pandemic has shut down frontline crossing points used by thousands of people every day. 

Asia

Bangladesh Human rights groups have accused the government of using digital security laws to silence discussion of the pandemic by journalists and private citizens.

Myanmar The UN has urged the government to end what rights groups called ‘the world’s longest internet blackout’ to allow people access to information on the virus.

China Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist who reported on the pandemic from Wuhan, was arrested and faces up to seven years in jail for "provocation and trouble making”.

Kyrgyzstan NGOs have accused the government of a lack of transparency about coronavirus after public procurement laws were changed during the pandemic to increase secrecy.

Kyrgyzstan Draft legislation empowering the government to block “false information” online is a serious step toward curtailing press freedom in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

India Police have arrested 47 people in the state of Kerala amid a spike in online searches for child abuse images during the lockdown.

Pakistan A black market for blood plasma has developed as families of critical coronavirus patients offered thousands of dollars for transfusions.

Australia Muslim community leaders in Victoria have voiced fears of stigmatisation following unconfirmed reports that a coronavirus cluster originated at a family Eid celebration.

Australia The pensions crisis has deepened during the pandemic as rates remain low and workers withdraw retirement funds early.

Middle East & North Africa

Women Large gaps between the number of male and female coronavirus cases in parts of the Middle East and Africa suggest that women in conflict areas are having difficulty accessing testing or care, a relief agency said.

Yemen Migrants said Houthi militias that control the north of the country were blaming them for the pandemic and brutally forcing them out of their territory.

Yemen Millions of children face starvation as a result of aid being withdrawn amid the pandemic, the United Nations said.

Oman A surge in cases of coronavirus has “nothing to do with reopening of activities”, the country’s health ministry claimed.

Egypt Journalist Mohamed Mounir has been arrested for allegedly spreading false news, joining a terror group and misusing social media after he spoke out in support of reporters who criticised bishops for continuing to lead prayers during the pandemic.

Iran Executions of Kurdish political prisoners have increased during the pandemic, with political prisoner Hedayat Abdullahpour the latest to have his family informed of his killing.

Africa

Nigeria An increase in the number of rapes during the lockdown has prompted governors of all 36 Nigerian states to declare states of emergency for sexual violence.

Uganda People with disabilities have won representation on the government’s coronavirus taskforce after a campaign following the police shooting of a deaf and blind man.

Kenya Police shot and killed three people when a crowd of motorcycle taxi drivers protested against the arrest of a colleague for ignoring coronavirus restrictions.

Zimbabwe Frank Chikowore and Samuel Takawira, reporters arrested on 22 May at a hospital in Harare, have been charged with violating lockdown regulations.

South Africa More than 8 million people in the country could face food insecurity as a result of the pandemic, South African lawmakers said. 

Ghana Quacks and conmen have taken advantage of the pandemic to peddle fake coronavirus cures.

Tanzania Opposition leader Zitto Kabwe, who has criticised the government’s coronavirus response, has been arrested and bailed for taking part in an “unlawful assembly”.

Somalia The electoral commission has said that the country’s first one-person one-vote elections in fifty years, scheduled for November and February, should be postponed until next summer due to the pandemic and a lack of funds.

Americas 

US A movement of far-right conspiracy theorists is flourishing, researchers warned.

Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been accused of sexism after he said that the tradition of women staying at home to take care of older family members was key to fighting the pandemic.

Paraguay Large corporations have appeared to be exploiting the pandemic to promote baby formula by playing on mothers’ fears of transmitting coronavirus through breastfeeding, an openDemocracy investigation revealed.

Peru Demand for medicinal oxygen canisters has outstripped supply, resulting in long queues and high prices.

Chile Copper mine operator Codelco has suspended refinery and foundry operations at its second-largest mine in an attempt to contain coronavirus infection and reduce tensions with unions, which accused the company of not doing enough to protect workers.

Venezuela Illegal arrests have increased during the pandemic and detentions are lasting longer because courts were closed, according to data from the NGO Foro Penal.

Climate and environment

Europe Lockdown measures have coincided with a spike in poaching of protected species, with birds of prey and the critically endangered sturgeon at particular risk.

US Oil and gas companies drilling on US government-owned land have cut spending on lobbying after the Trump administration invoked the pandemic to slash royalties they pay.

Ukraine Illegal logging in the Carpathian Mountains contributed to flooding that forced the partial evacuation of a hospital treating COVID-19 patients, environmentalists said.

Brazil Investment funds managing nearly $4 trillion in assets have called on the government to stop deforestation in the Amazon amid fears that President Jair Bolsonaro was exploiting the coronavirus crisis to push for deregulation.

UK Spotting spikes in air pollution on London’s Tube network to trigger targeted shutdowns could help prevent another coronavirus outbreak, scientists said.

Good news

Germany The pandemic has spurred a boom in bike sharing as travellers choose fresh air over crowded public transport.

Pride Millions of people around the world will take part in virtual Pride parades.

Vaccines Scientists found that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 does not mutate quickly – welcome news for vaccine-makers.

Indonesia People in Aceh defied coronavirus restrictions to rescue 94 Rohingya refugees from a stranded boat.

How do we work after coronavirus?

The pandemic has profoundly changed our working lives. Millions have lost their jobs; others have had no choice but to continue working at great risk to their health. Many more have shouldered extra unpaid labour such as childcare.

Work has also been redefined. Some workers are defined as 'essential' – but most of them are among the lowest-paid in our societies.

Could this be an opportunity?

Amid the crisis, there has been a rise in interest in radical ideas, from four-day weeks to universal basic income.

Join us on 5pm UK time on 20 August as we discuss whether the pandemic might finally be a moment for challenging our reliance on work.

In conversation:

Sarah Jaffe, journalist and author of 'Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone', due to be published next year.

Amelia Horgan, academic and author of 'Lost in Work: Escaping Capitalism', also due to be published next year.

Chair: Alice Martin, advisory board member of Autonomy, a think tank dedicated to the future of work.

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

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