DemocracyWatch: The militarised crackdown on protests has haunted a world under lockdown

Across the world, Black people are first in line for pandemic human rights abuses.

3 June 2020, 8.21am
Black Lives Matter protest, London.
Alisdare Hickson

The militarised crackdown on protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has haunted the screens of a world under lockdown. President Donald Trump has been accused of trying to “bully social media companies and online platforms into changing how they moderate content online”. And across the planet people have responded, insisting that black lives matter.

The protests in the US came after the African-American community was already bearing the brunt of the coronavirus and the crackdown on rights that came with it. Ninety per cent of those arrested in New York under lock-down laws were people of colour. Black Americans are dying of the virus at three times the rate of white people. And, as we’ve reported in previous weeks, Native American communities have been among the hardest hit.

It’s not just the US. In Brazil, home of the world’s largest black population outside Africa, new data shows predominantly black areas have been hit disproportionately by the virus. The Chinese city of Guangzhou has a significant African population, many of whom report they have been vilified as a result of the virus: forced into quarantine despite testing negative and forcibly evicted by landlords who accuse them of spreading the virus

In the UK, a new report shows that people of Bangladeshi ethnicity are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as white British people.

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Rohingya people in South and South-East Asia have been persecuted by governments and scapegoated for spreading the virus. Roma people in Europe and Aborigional people in Australia have been imprisoned in camps with limited sanitation, healthcare and food. Uyghur people in China have been forced to work in factories throughout the crisis so that other Chinese people can stay at home. 

Everywhere in the world, this virus and the crackdown that has come with it has hit racialised groups the hardest. This week’s openDemocracy live dial in will focus on events in the US – and what they mean for the world. Please do join us

Every week, DemocracyWatch rounds up the attacks on democracy, human rights and civil liberties that have come with the pandemic. You can read this week’s summary below - and sign up for the weekly newsletter here:

Global Human rights groups reported a surge in hate crime against Asian people and people of Asian descent around the world.


US Black Americans were dying of the coronavirus at three times the rate of white people, research found.

US The American government sent Brazil two million doses of hydroxychloroquine despite evidence that the drug may make the coronavirus worse.

Brazil Police raided the residence of the governor of Rio de Janeiro state, an outspoken critic of President Jair Bolsonaro, on allegations that he embezzled money intended for coronavirus field hospitals. 

Brazil A number of media outlets said they would stop sending reporters to Bolsonaro’s press conferences due to the increasing aggression shown by his supporters at the events. 

Brazil The government was forced to release data showing that the virus was disproportionately affecting areas with high numbers of black residents. 

Venezuela ‘There is a real risk that the new virus will cause another genocide,’ indigenous community leaders warned.

Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru The United Nations High Commission for Refugees said its mission to support 1.5 million Venezuelan refugees facing the coronavirus as the Southern Hemisphere winter arrives is dangerously underfunded.


Georgia At least 40 babies were stranded in the country as coronavirus restrictions made it difficult for would-be parents abroad to reach newborn surrogates.

Poland Hackers targeted several websites to post fake news items including a phoney interview with a US commander ridiculing allied forces days before a major NATO exercise in the country, officials said.

Russia Police cited coronavirus restrictions in detaining seven journalists and a writer holding single person pickets in solidarity with another journalist detained for a similar protest.

Russia Human rights groups called on the government to release data on the number of coronavirus cases in care homes. 

UK Several press freedom groups criticised the UK government for banning openDemocracy from asking questions in daily coronavirus briefings. 

UK The government proposed a motion that would require MPs to vote in person, despite the coronavirus.

Belarus An ambulance driver was jailed for speaking out about the country’s failure to act against the pandemic.

Spain Journalists were attacked by far-right demonstrators protesting against the government’s coronavirus response. 

Slovakia Government officials admitted that forced quarantining of Roma settlements had exacerbated racial hatred.


China Hong Kong customs arrested a member of the pro-democracy Demosisto party for alleged violations of trade description laws over the sale of protective masks. Authorities have been accused of ‘political repression’.

China Black residents of Guangzhou were accused of spreading the virus, repeatedly forced into quarantine despite testing negative and evicted from their homes.

Kyrgyzstan The president pleaded for his country’s debt to be restructured to allow for more social spending during a meeting jointly convened by the United Nations to discuss the impact of the pandemic on the global economy.

Indonesia Officials forced social distancing violators to recite Quran verses, stay in ‘haunted’ houses and wear placards. 

Indonesia Gunmen attacked two healthcare workers in West Papua.

Philippines Authorities said they had raided clandestine clinics allegedly treating foreigners with coronavirus symptoms.

Japan Reporters Without Borders called on the government to lift restrictions on access to press conferences. 

Pakistan There was a surge in the number of journalists testing positive for the coronavirus. 

India Reporters Without Borders recorded 15 cases of police and judicial harassment of journalists in four weeks, mainly in connection with their coronavirus coverage.

Singapore A Malaysian national was sentenced to death over a Zoom call for drug trafficking.

Bangladesh At least 15,000 Rohingya people were forcibly quarantined as officials tried to contain the pandemic in the world’s biggest refugee camp.

Tonga The prime minister said that MPs should take a 20% pay cut as the pandemic hit the island state’s economy.

Solomon Islands The prime minister rejected claims he was acting unconstitutionally in his response to the virus.

Middle East & North Africa

Egypt Doctors, lawyers and rights activists reported a campaign to censor coverage of the outbreak.

Qatar Amnesty International said it alerted authorities to a critical weakness in the government’s Ehteraz contact tracing app that would have allowed hackers access to the personal data of more than a million users.

Palestine More than 1,600 people were forcibly quarantined in the Gaza Strip. 


Nigeria Journalist Kufre Carter was released on bail from a month-long detention and faced a court hearing after publishing audio of a phone conversation critical of Akwa Ibom State Health Commissioner Dominic Ukpong’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Nigeria A fourteen-year-old girl was killed when police opened fire on a bus driver accused of breaking coronavirus curfew laws.

Tanzania The government summoned the US ambassador over posts on Twitter warning that the capital, Dar es Salaam, was unsafe because of the coronavirus.

Eritrea Thousands of people locked in overcrowded detention centres had little or no defence against the coronavirus, Amnesty International said.

South Africa Journalist Paul Nthoba sought asylum in Lesotho after reportedly being beaten by police for his lockdown reporting. 

South Africa Lockdown has had a devastating effect on local media, the National Editors’ Forum said.

Climate and environment

Kazakhstan Chevron sent home two-thirds of its workers, some 20,000 people, at its Tengiz oil field, where hundreds tested positive for the virus, the company's chief executive said.

Brazil With NGOs and activists leaving the Amazon to prevent the coronavirus from spreading to indigenous groups, loggers have moved in, with new evidence showing deforestation in the Amazon was 64% higher in April 2020 than April 2019.

Good news

Africa Radio hosts took to the airwaves to dispel fake news about the pandemic.

Spain There were no new coronavirus deaths in Spain for the first time since March

US Black Lives Matter is campaigning for a Coronavirus relief fund.

US/China NASA scientist and Uighur-American Erkin Sidick has gained prominence speaking out against the Chinese government's treatment of his people.

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