Concerns raised about extreme measures, power abuse during virus lockdowns
TORONTO -- Several high-profile incidents of authorities taking extreme measures to enforce COVID-19 lockdowns have raised concerns about abuses of power amid the pandemic.
In a March 16 statement, the UNHCR called on governments to avoid “overreaching security measures” in their response to the virus outbreak, stressing that states must not quash dissent.
“We urgently remind States that any emergency responses to the coronavirus must be proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory,” the statement said.
However, reports and videos of officials going to extreme lengths to stem the spread of the virus have emerged from across the globe.
In India, a video showing men in protective suits spraying “disinfecting sanitizer” on a group of people at a bus station in the city of Bareilly has sparked nationwide outrage.
Local administrator Nitish Kumar said the men were sanitizing storefronts on Tuesday, when police ordered them to spray the crowd of people. Kumar said no one was injured, but The Indian Express reported that the spray was a bleaching agent, and several people suffered injuries.
The people at the bus station were believed to be migrant workers who were leaving the city to return to their home villages, amid a lockdown affecting the nation of 1.3 billion.
Also on Tuesday, a 13-year-old boy in Kenya was shot by police who were enforcing a curfew. The Associated Press also reported that Kenyan police have fired tear gas at a crowd of commuters in Mombasa before the first night of the country’s curfew started.
In the Philippines, an official is facing charges after five people, including two minors, were put in dog cages for allegedly breaking curfew. Municipal police told local media that the official allegedly threatened to shoot the victims if they did not stay in the cage for 30 minutes.
In Hungary, the parliament passed a bill on Monday which granted Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government new powers during the pandemic, with no expiration date.
The bill was widely criticized by opposition parties and civic groups. They say the bill, which includes measures against false information, could be used to muzzle the media.
Additionally there are concerns over privacy, as governments in East Asia, Europe and the Middle East use technology to track COVID-19 patients or citizens who have been ordered to quarantine.
For example, Israel’s government approved the use of tracking technology that had previously been used to fight terrorism. The tool allows security agencies to track citizens using their national ID numbers and phone numbers.
-With files from The Associated Press and CNN