Authoritarians Around the World are Using the Coronavirus to Crack Down on Rights

Authoritarian leaders around the world are using the coronavirus pandemic to seize new powers and crack down on people’s rights.

Hungary overwhelmingly passed an indefinite law granting Prime Minister Viktor Orban extraordinary powers even after more than 100,000 residents petitioned against the move, NPR reports.

The move allows Orban to govern unilaterally without input from legislators. The bill also included a new law that would imprison people for up to five years for spreading misinformation about the virus, stoking concerns that it could be used against journalists that defy the administration.

"Changing our lives is now unavoidable," Orban said last week. "Everyone has to leave their comfort zone. This law gives the government the power and means to defend Hungary."

“When this emergency ends, we will give back all powers, without exception,” he claimed on Monday.

But human rights advocates decried the move.

"An indefinite and uncontrolled state of emergency cannot guarantee that the basic principles of democracy will be observed," Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric said in a letter to Orban.

Serbia imposes new rules:

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has similarly seized unilateral control over the government after declaring a national emergency, according to The Associated Press.

“He issues orders which are automatically accepted by the government,” a former government official told the outlet. “No checks and balances.”

Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, the human rights chief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, expressed concern over the states of emergency being declared in some European states.

“A state of emergency — wherever it is declared and for whatever reason — must be proportionate to its aim, and only remain in place for as long as absolutely necessary.”

Other countries crack down too:

In Russia, authorities have cracked down on social media users sharing their opinions about the crisis and on media reports that criticize the government’s response, according to the AP.

Poland has also sparked concerns after creating a mobile phone app that tracks people in quarantine.

In Israel, the government has imposed unprecedented surveillance measures to monitor citizens and shut down the courts as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces corruption charges.


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