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8 Apr 2020

Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch

Authoritarian leaders use COVID-19 to consolidate power & silence critics to advance their political & economic agendas

"How Authoritarians Are Exploiting the COVID-19 Crisis to Grab Power", 03 Apr 2020

For authoritarian-minded leaders, the coronavirus crisis is offering a convenient pretext to silence critics and consolidate power. Censorship in China and elsewhere has fed the pandemic, helping to turn a potentially containable threat into a global calamity...[P]eople’s health depends at minimum on free access to timely, accurate information. The Chinese government illustrated the disastrous consequence of ignoring that... When doctors in Wuhan tried to sound the alarm...about the new coronavirus, authorities silenced... them. Even now, the Chinese government...claims that the coronavirus has been tamed but won’t allow independent verification... Others are following... In Thailand, Cambodia, Venezuela, Bangladesh, and Turkey, governments are detaining journalists, opposition activists, healthcare workers, and anyone else who dares to criticize the official response... When independent media is silenced, governments are able to promote self-serving propaganda... Egypt’s President...for example, downplayed the coronavirus threat... apparently wanting to avoid harming Egypt’s tourist industry... [F]ree media is not a certain antidote. Responsible government is also needed. US President Donald Trump initially called the coronavirus a “hoax.” Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro called the virus a “fantasy”... Some governments are breathing a sigh of relief that the coronavirus has provided a convenient reason to limit political demonstrations. The Algerian government has halted regular protests seeking genuine democratic reform...