“Some countries have used Covid-19 to restrict freedoms”

Amnesty International’s latest annual report, released on Tuesday, March 29, reveals that the continuation of the pandemic and the escalation of conflicts around the world have exacerbated human rights violations and inequalities. Especially in the Middle East and North Africa.

On Tuesday, March 29, Amnesty International published its annual report on the human rights situation in the world in 2021. And not surprisingly, its record is gloomy. According to the NGO, the response of states and multinational corporations to the challenge of fighting the pandemic and the escalation of conflicts in the world has caused an intensification of inequalities and an increased violation of fundamental rights.

According to the report, “growing poverty, food insecurity and governments’ instrumentalisation of the pandemic to better suppress disagreement and disagreement have been widely cultivated by 2021”, while the threat of new conflicts “has grown, while others, older, got worse”.

Especially in the Middle East and North Africa, which marked that year on the 10thand the anniversary of the large-scale uprisings in 2011, known as the “Arab Spring”. In these regions, specifically in Libya, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or even in Yemen, “the clashes have resulted in massive violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law,” the NGO said.

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Some governments are accused in the report “of not making adequate public access to health care, including anti-Covid-19 vaccines, a priority”.

In the interview with France 24, Heba Morayef, Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, explains that the pandemic as such has played a role in the deterioration of human rights.

“Over the last two years, the pandemic has diverted international attention a little more from the conflicts in these regions, such as the forgotten wars in Syria and Yemen,” she says. “Some governments, especially in North Africa, have benefited from Covid-19 acting or legislate to undermine freedom of expression, all in the name of emergency “.

This type of action has in particular made it possible to restrict the freedom of association and the right to demonstrate, for example in Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria, where continuous protest movements have been broken in their tracks, Heba Morayef emphasizes.

A “severely limited” freedom of speech

Pandemic or not, Amnesty International’s report counts several attacks on freedom of expression in the Middle East and North Africa, where it is still “severely restricted as governments have adopted draconian new laws criminalizing the mere exercise of this right”.

And this in the public space as online, as “States have continued to censor the Internet and invest in digital surveillance devices”, the NGO insists.

“Authorities across the region have again this year arrested, detained and prosecuted people for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression,” the report continues. subjective provisions of criminal law sanction “contempt” for prosecuting and imprisoning those who criticized the public authorities, in particular the measures taken in connection with the pandemic “.

Amnesty International cites the “emblematic” case of Saudi Arabian Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison followed by a ban on leaving the country during the same period, “for posting tweets in which he criticized the government’s economic policies.

In Libya, the report recalls, Parliament passed a law on cybercrime that “severely restricts freedom of expression online”, allowing the government to carry out surveillance activities and exercise censorship.

On the side of neighboring Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi has “enacted a law making it responsible for prosecution, for reasons formulated in vague terms, publication of information on pandemics”, the report condemns.

“Freedom of expression covers all aspects of citizens’ daily lives and allows them to live their lives as they see fit, yet we are at a time when in most countries in these regions there is very little room for expression, whether for political disagreement or for mobilization “, emphasizes Heba Morayef.

A long list of complaints

In addition to this tightening of freedom of expression and opinion, all human rights are being abused in the Middle East and North Africa, the report continues.

Overcrowding of prisons, unhygienic prisons, war crimes, serious violations of international humanitarian law, foreign military interference, illegal arms transfers, violation of the rights of refugees or migrants, insecure situation for foreign workers, disposal of land, discrimination against respect for women, persons and members of religious and ethnic minorities … the list of complaints listed by Amnesty International is very, very long.

In at least 18 countries in these regions “torture and other ill-treatment continued this year in official and unofficial detention centers, including during interrogations (to extract ‘confessions’) and in connection with being held in solitary confinement in very harsh conditions”, condemns NGO’ one again.

“Since 2011, there have been many changes, but most of the time it was for the worse, as evidenced by the results of the different countries in these regions, and the proportion of the population suffering from human rights violations,” explains Heba Morayef And in particular. in the countries affected by the Arab Spring, and whose regimes, shaken by these movements, unprecedented in their extent, then sought by all means to prevent the recurrence of such uprisings, as in Bahrain and in Egypt. “

With regard to the Palestinians, Libya, Syria and Yemen, “the reality of these conflicts, in the sense of violations of international humanitarian law and the generalization and impunity of war crimes, the people clearly live in terms of human rights, in even more degraded conditions,” she added.

Despite this difficult context, human rights remain a major issue for the people in the eyes of these regions. According to Amnesty International, more than 630,000 people have registered in the last three years to become international members or supporters of the NGO.

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