A January 2021 report by the American Friends Service Committee documents how local and state governments arounds the world have implemented “extreme emergency measures under the cover of responding to the virus.” The AFSC report, “Under the Mask,” identifies nine types of restrictions that indicate “governments’ tightening grip on civil society.” Describing a “global shift toward authoritarianism,” Kerri Kennedy, the associate general secretary for international programs at AFSC, told Common Dreams, that restrictions on civil liberties over the past decade have been “accelerated” by COVID-19. “It is vitally important,” Kennedy said, “to identify, monitor, and resist the misuse and normalization of extreme measures that further restrict civic space and harm marginalized people.”
The AFSC’s “Under the Mask” report analyzes three major categories of restrictions: Infringements on civil liberties relating to free speech, free movement, and state surveillance; aggressive state tactics, including market demolitions, militarized borders, and police brutality; and state tactics for suppressing opposition including smear campaigns and “the Shock Doctrine.”
COVID-19 took the world by surprise and governments had to make many decisions quickly to attempt to stop the spread of the disease, including, for example, initiating national lockdowns, travel bans, and mass testing. In many cases, however, extreme policies such as banning or restricting meetings, closing public spaces, and conducting surveillance on telecommunication systems, have been implemented without sunset clauses that would end these policies when the pandemic is over.
The AFSC report not only identifies civil liberties restrictions and governmental abuses of power under the pandemic, it also identifies resources for constructive responses to those restrictions and abuses. For example, one of the resources for responding to restrictions on civil society organizations, is a tool, developed by Oxfam, to monitor the extent of civic space—the conditions necessary for people to organize, participate, and communicate with each other freely and without hindrance.
Source: “New Project Documents How Governments are Using COVID-19 to Impose Authoritarian Policies,” Common Dreams, January 26, 2021, https://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2021/01/26/new-project-documents-how-governments-are-using-covid-19-impose-authoritarian.
Student Researcher: Tyler Cowen (Indian River State College)
Faculty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)
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