- On Monday, Hungary passed a law allowing Prime Minister Viktor Orban to indefinitely rule by decree, giving him the power to rule the country how he sees fit.
- Hungary also passed a law banning the spreading of “false” information, a move critics call a censor to free press.
- Other countries such as the Philippines, Egypt, Iran, and Brazil have also made moves to block journalists, either by censoring, harassing, detaining, or attempting to discredit them.
- Facebook and Twitter, in turn, have removed posts by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for misinformation relating to the use and promotion of hydroxychloroquine, a drug being investigated as an antiviral COVID-19 treatment.
Hungary Gives PM Power to “Rule By Decree”
As governments around the world struggle with how to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Hungary has given its prime minister the power to indefinitely rule by decree.
Hungary’s parliament overwhelmingly passed that bill Monday, and as of Tuesday, it is now in effect. In essence, it gives Prime Minister Viktor Orban the legal ability to govern the country unchallenged for as long as he sees fit. Notably, that means he doesn’t need to consult with other lawmakers when it comes to making decisions.
In theory, the bill stills allow for the country’s constitutional court to act as a check; however, Orban had already stacked that court with loyalists. That means a check against him is extremely unlikely to happen.
Hungary’s government has justified this new law by saying emergency powers are necessary to fight the outbreak, but rights groups are fighting back by saying such a move suspends democracy. Many political analysts have also questioned whether or not Orban will give back his newfound power once the coronavirus crisis is over.
In fact, some say there’s precedent to suggest he might not. In 2016, Orban was granted emergency power to deal with Hungary’s migrant crisis, but he’s yet to relinquish those powers and still holds them today.
“He is using this crisis to further increase his power,” the director of a Budapest-based think tank told The Washington Post. “The Hungarian prime minister enjoys the situation where he can act as a captain in a crisis. I don’t see him giving up these powers again easily.”
Because of that, there are concerns that Orban and his administration might also use “rule by decree” to suppress independent voices and free press. It’s possible that the country might already be taking such steps, as the law that gave Orban rule by decree also criminalizes any attempts to stop the Hungarian government from fighting the outbreak. Notably, that includes the spreading of false information, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Of course, the kicker is that whenever a government allows a single person to call the shots, they can decide what is considered “false” information.
The European Union, of which Hungary is a member, has already launched punitive measures against the country, saying Orban’s attacks on the media, the courts, and minority rights pose a “systematic threat” to its core values.
Hungary has defended itself against that criticism, with a spokesperson saying, “False claims of a power grab in Hungary are just that. Such insinuations are not only incorrect but defamatory and impede the government’s efforts in slowing down the spread of the coronavirus.”
Other Countries Make Moves to Block Journalists
It’s not just Hungary making big moves to potentially change freedoms and block journalists.
Last week in Egypt, authorities forced a reporter for The Guardian to leave the country after she reported on a scientific study that said Egypt likely had many more COVID-19 cases than officially reported.
In the Philippines, journalists can now face sentences up to two months and a fine up to $20,000 for “spreading false information” related to the coronavirus.
In Iran, authorities have been aggressively working to contain independent reporting by harassing, detaining, and censoring journalists. Officials there have also ordered the media to only use the government’s statistics when covering COVID-19.
In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has called the coronavirus a media trick, saying: “The people will soon see that they were tricked by these governors and by the large part of the media when it comes to coronavirus.”
“It is a shameless campaign, a colossal and absurd campaign against the head of state…” he also said. “They want to force me out however possible.”
Facebook and Twitter Remove Bolsonaro Posts
By contrast, multiple social media sites have removed posts from Bolsonaro that they say feature him making false, harmful, or misleading statements.
The posts all contain video of Bolsonaro walking through Brazil’s capital. He then talks to a street vendor and insinuates an end to social distancing.
“This medicine here, hydroxychloroquine, is working in every place,” he adds in the video that was posted Saturday.
Notably, that is incorrect. Both hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are being investigated as possible antiviral treatments for COVID-19; however, while those drugs are approved for use in patients with malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, they have not been approved for use in people with COVID-19.
Twitter banned two tweets featuring the video on Sunday. According to NBC News, Twitter ordered Bolsonaro to take down that video himself if he wanted to keep using the platform.
“Twitter recently announced the expansion of its rules to cover content that could be against public health information provided by official sources and could put people at greater risk of transmitting Covid-19,” a spokesperson for the site said in a statement.
Monday night, both Facebook followed suit by removing the video on its platform. It also removed the video from Instagram, which it owns.
“We removed content on Facebook and Instagram that violates our Community Standards, which do not allow misinformation that could cause real harm to people,” read a statement to media outlets.
Bolsonaro is not the only world leader to be hit by social media platforms hoping to cut down on misinformation surrounding COVID-19. Last week, Twitter also deleted a tweet from Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro for promoting a “natural brew” to cure COVID-19.
Though not governmental leaders, it has also deleted tweets from President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Fox host Laura Ingraham for promoting the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine before its widespread approval.
On Saturday, the Food and Drug Administration gave the Trump Administration emergency approval to distribute millions of doses of those drugs to hospitals. Even with that, that does not mean that the FDA is approving the long-term use of these drugs against COVID-19.
China Warns UK to “Step Back From the Brink” After Boris Johnson Offer Hong Kongers Refuge
- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered refuge to nearly three million Hong Kong residents on Wednesday.
- Johnson’s announcement came after Beijing passed a highly controversial bill last week meant to severely crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong.
- Among other things, the Chinese government will now be allowed to establish a security force in the city.
- Following Johnson’s announcement, the Chinese government warned the United Kingdom to “step back from the brink” and “abandon their Cold War mentality and colonial mindset.”
- The UK’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has also urged Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Canada to offer visas to Hong Kong residents.
Boris Johnson Offers Refuge to Hong Kongers
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now pledging refuge and a path to British citizenship for nearly 3 million Hong Kong residents.
The move follows last week’s passage of a sweeping national security law passed in Beijing, which has widely been viewed as a blatant attempt to subvert Hong Kong’s freedoms and exert more control over the city.
Johnson, who announced the refuge plan in an op-ed in the South China Morning Post on Wednesday, said, “If China proceeds, this would be in direct conflict with its obligations under the Joint Declaration, a legally binding treaty registered with the United Nations.”
Notably, Johnson plans to extend British National (Overseas) passports to allow Hong Kong residents to come to the United Kingdom for a renewable period of 12 months. They would then be given further immigration rights, including the right to work, which could place them on a route to citizenship.
Currently, about 350,000 people hold BNO passports. Another 2.5 million are eligible for them.
In fact, anyone born before 1997 is able to apply for one, but normally, they would only allow Hong Kongers to remain in the United Kingdom for up to six months. Passport holders would also be unable to apply for work.
Johnson’s response to China’s security law is particularly notable because before 1997, Hong Kong was actually a British colony. It was then handed over to China, where it implemented the “one country, two systems” model.
Johnson noted that this would be one of the biggest changes to the UK’s visa system in British history. He said he will implement it if or when China formally enacts its national security law.
“Britain would then have no choice but to uphold our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong,” Johnson said.
But some in Hong Kong have expressed concern over the offer. Many are afraid that, even if they can apply for jobs in the U.K., they won’t be able to find any. Others fear they’ll be treated like second-class citizens.
“I think it’s a shame in a way that they only offer us an exit, and do not offer to stand by us in our fight for Hong Kong,” veteran activist Lee Cheuk Yan said.
Others have expressed major concerns with young people’s ability to apply for BNO’s, as they would likely not be able to obtain a visa if they were born after 1997.
China Warns UK: “Step Back from the Brink”
China responded Wednesday to Johnson’s offer to Hong Kong residents, though it did not do so with open arms.
“We advise the UK to step back from the brink, abandon their Cold War mentality and colonial mindset, and recognise and respect the fact that Hong Kong has returned [to China],” Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for China foreign ministry, said.
Zhao added that London must “immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs and China’s internal affairs, or this will definitely backfire.”
Part of the reason why China might be so furious with Johnson’s offer is that China likely views it as the UK undermining China’s authority over Hong Kong. On top of that, the offer could also result in a major brain drain from the world financial hub. In fact, three million people is about 40 percent of Hong Kong’s population.
Still, it doesn’t seem like the UK is about to back down. Dominic Raab—the UK’s foreign secretary—has been urging other countries to offer visas to Hong Kong residents including Australia, New Zealand, the United States., and Canada.
On Tuesday, Raab said he’s raised “the possibility of… burden-sharing if we see a mass exodus from Hong Kong.”
Regarding the U.S., this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the U.S. response should “mirror those of other democracies who have opened their doors to Hong Kongers fleeing oppression.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he’s considering the idea of allowing more Hong Kongers to immigrate to the U.S. if this law goes into effect.
Outside of the U.S, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has pledged support to accept Hong Kongers within Taiwan’s borders.
Last week, she said she’s working to “draw up a humanitarian assistance action plan for #HongKong citizens that lays out clear, complete plans for their residence, placement, employment, & life in #Taiwan as soon as possible.”
National Security Bill, Protests, and U.S. Response
On May 21, China proposed the national security law.
China has argued that it’s nothing more than a way to end the violence in the city and that it would have “no impact on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents, or the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong.”
The law itself would criminalize acts like secession, terrorism, subversion, and any activities by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong; however, one of the big issues with the bill is the subversion clause, which is so broad that it’s currently unclear what would actually be criminalized.
The bill also allows the mainland to set up its own security force in the city—something it hasn’t been able to do up to this point. That means China would then be able to target people in Hong Kong who criticize the government.
Following the announcement of this bill, people flooded the streets in protest for the time since coronavirus lockdown measures were put in place. Those incidents have led to a number of arrests and clashes with police.
On May 28, that bill passed in Beijing.
For her part, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said she’ll support it, but that hasn’t been the case at all for a lot of world leaders.
Other countries like Canada, Australia, and Japan have also expressed concern.
Last week, Pompeo also announced that the U.S. no longer viewed Hong Kong as an autonomous region. Notably, that could give President Trump and Congress the leeway to end Hong Kong’s special trade status, which would then impose in Hong Kong the same trade restrictions the U.S. has on China.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Business Insider) (The Guardian)
Chief Adviser to Boris Johnson in Hot Water for Breaking Lockdown Measures He Helped Create
Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
- Politicians and citizens in the United Kingdom are calling for Dominic Cummings, chief adviser to the Prime Minister, to be fired after breaking strict lockdown measures that he helped create.
- Days after those measures went into effect, Cummings drove his young son and wife, who was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, 260 miles north from London to Durham.
- As Cummings explained on Monday, this was to allow his parents to care for his son in case he came down with symptoms, too.
- A day later, he did. Eventually, so did his son, who was later taken to the hospital.
Cummings Travels 260 Miles After Lockdown Restrictions
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing calls to fire his chief adviser Dominic Cummings after Cummings broke lockdown measures he helped create.
On March 23, the United Kingdom imposed strict lockdown orders that barred nearly all travel; however, on March 27, Cummings drove 260 miles from London to his parents’ home in the northern city of Durham.
Notably, he also brought his 4-year-old son as well as his wife, who was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. The next day after arriving in Durham, Cummings developed symptoms. It was also later learned that eventually, so did his son, who had to spend a night in the hospital.
Only a couple of weeks after experiencing symptoms, Cummings and his family then reportedly visited a local castle.
According to the government’s stay-at-home orders—which Cummings reportedly helped directly create—people with children were told to comply “to the best of your ability.”
While England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer warned that “if you have adults who are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance,” she also added that people without child care or family support should contact their local authorities for help. That is something Cummings didn’t do.
In fact, Cummings also failed to tell Johnson he was making this trip.
Because of that, many have used social media to rail at Cummings for seemingly flouting his own rules.
One Twitter user said, “he has COVID symptoms so he drives the length of the country to deliver a potentially contagious child to a household of two elderly people, and he wants to keep his job?”
Many others, including journalist Piers Morgan, have shared personal stories of being unable to visit their elderly relatives. Some have even noted that they obeyed lockdown orders in lieu of comforting dying family and friends or attending funerals.
A number of politicians in parliament have also called for Johnson to fire Cummings, including more than 35 Conservatives in Johnson’s own party.
Still, following this, Johnson defended Cummings, saying he “followed the instincts of every father and every parent.”
Cummings Addresses His Travel
On Monday, Cummings held a news conference in the garden of 10 Downing Street, the office of the prime minister. More than 3.7 million people tuned in to listen to Cummings address the mounting criticism.
At the conference, Cummings defended his actions. Originally, he said that he, his wife, and his son had all quarantined together, but when they began to suspect that his wife might have had the coronavirus and could possibly spread it to him, they left.
Cummings argued this was so that his extended family would be able to care for his son if both of them became ill.
Notably, he said he didn’t stop on the way up to his father’s farm.
Cummings went on to say that because he needed to ensure childcare for his son, that constituted an “exceptional situation” granted under the lockdown orders.
“I don’t regret what I did,” Cummings said. “As I said, I think reasonable people may well disagree about how I thought about what to do in the circumstances, but I think that what I did was actually reasonable in these circumstances.”
Regarding why he visited the castle, Cummings claimed that this was to test his eyesight to see if he could drive back to London, this because he said he had experienced vision loss from the coronavirus.
As to why he didn’t tell Johnson about his trip to Durham, Cummings said it was because Johnson had just fallen ill himself and had other issues to worry about. Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 on March 27.
Still, Cummings did admit that he had made a mistake in not telling Johnson.
“I think lots of people would be very angry and I completely understand that,” he said, “but I hope and think that, today, when I’ve actually explained all the circumstances about it.”
“I think people realize that this was a very complicated, tricky situation. I was trying to weigh out a lot of different things. Some people might have behaved differently in some ways. As I said, you know, arguably, it was a mistake that I didn’t call Prime Minister on the Friday night, but I just did what I thought was the right thing to do. But I make decisions like that everyday.”
MP Resigns from Government Post
If Cummings hoped that the masses would be understanding after his explanation, he was wrong. While some people have certainly approached the situation from the perspective of a desperate parent wanting to do anything to protect their child, others have remained critical.
In fact, Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Douglas Ross, announced that he was resigning from his post following Cummings’ conference.
According to Ross, while that conference “clarified” Cummings’ actions, “these were decisions many others felt were not available to them.”
“I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government. I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior advisor to the government was right,” he added.
Ross, who is also a Conservative member of parliament, will continue in that role without resigning.
Essentially, this move is meant to put extra pressure on Johnson, as Ross’ Under-Secretary of State position was a function of the prime minister’s cabinet.
Whether that pressure or any pressure will actually lead to Johnson firing Cummings is a big question that remains unanswered, though Johnson has indicated thus far that he doesn’t plan on firing Cummings.
As The Washington Post points out, Johnson may think that he needs Cummings, this because Cummings is “focused on doing whatever is necessary to get his policies through.”
In fact, because of that, Cummings has been described as “arguably the second-most powerful man in Britain.”
Still, if Johnson loses the support of his party over this, there is the possibility that Conservative members of Parliament could trigger a leadership contest. As to how likely such a situation would be, that may become more clear in the coming days.
See what others are saying: (CNBC) (BBC) (The Guardian)
Taiwanese President Pledges Support for Hong Kong After China Proposes National Security Law
- On Thursday, the Chinese government announced that it was proposing a new national security law aimed at Hong Kong.
- The law is meant to criminalize any attempts at secession, subversion, or terrorism against mainland China in the autonomous city-state.
- Though protests had already been scheduled to oppose different measures being proposed in Hong Kong, they quickly shifted on Sunday to include opposition to the likely-to-be-passed national security law.
- Also on Sunday, Twainese President Tsai Ing-wen said that Taiwan “stands with the people of Hong Kong.”
China Proposes National Security Law
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said in a Facebook post on late Sunday that she “stands with the people of Hong Kong” as mainland China prepares to implement a sweeping new national security law that pro-democracy advocates argue could strip Hong Kong of its autonomy.
The law, proposed by the Chinese government on Thursday, is a direct response to the massive protests that have rocked Hong Kong since last year following a proposed extradition bill that would have made it easier for the mainland to target Hong Kongers critical of the Chinese government.
Hong Kong enjoys many freedoms that the mainland lacks. That is because, for more than 150 years, Hong Kong was a British colony. Then, in 1997, Britain handed Hong Kong back to mainland China; however, under a unique agreement called Basic Law, Hong Kong was allowed to retain its freedoms of assembly and speech, with that agreement set to last 50 years.
The proposed national security law is not the first time China has actively tried to exert more power over Hong Kong over the years, but it is the mainland’s most blatant attempt yet to crackdown on protests.
Notably, it would criminalize a number of acts in Hong Kong, including:
- Secession, or the right to declare independence from the mainland;
- Subversion, or undermining the power or authority of the mainland;
- Any activities by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong.
The law would also allow mainland China to implement its own law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong to “fulfill relevant duties to safeguard national security.”
Large Scale Protests Ramp Up for the First Time Since Lockdown
A large scale protest was originally scheduled to be held on Sunday to oppose a bill in Hong Kong’s legislature that would criminalize disrespecting the Chinese national anthem. After China’s announcement of this new bill, the focus shifted.
On Sunday, thousands of protesters ignored social distancing orders as they marched through the streets. This was the first instance of a large scale protest since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
While most of the protest was peaceful, in a scene now not uncommon for Hong Kong, several clashes between protesters and police occurred.
Police threw tear gas to disperse demonstrators, reportedly because the demonstrators had set up roadblocks and thrown objects at officers. Along with tear gas, police also fired other familiar projectiles at protesters, including a water cannon and rubber bullets.
By the end of the protest, more than 180 people were arrested, four officers were injured, and six other people were hospitalized—including one woman in critical condition.
Alongside that protest, on Sunday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi continued to defend the proposed national security law, saying that it’s aimed only at a: “very narrow category of acts that seriously jeopardise national security.”
He added that the law would have “no impact on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents, or the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong.”
“Instead of becoming unnecessarily worried, people should have more confidence in Hong Kong’s future,” he said.
Still, his comments have failed to assuage or persuade pro-democracy advocates. According to The Washington Post, this law could lead to secret police, surveillance, arbitrary detentions, and even propaganda in classrooms.
International Response to the Proposed Law
One of the big questions that remains is to what degree the United States might intervene—especially since the law would criminalize foreign forces interfering with Hong Kong.
So far, the U.S. hasn’t promised any specific action, but on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called security law a “death knell” and said he strongly urged Beijing to reconsider the “disastrous proposal.”
Late Sunday night, Taiwanese President Tsai said that if the law is implemented, then Hong Kong’s core values of freedom and judicial independence will be severely eroded.
Still, it likely will be implemented as Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that she’ll fully support the law, arguing that it will improve business confidence without eroding freedoms.
On Tuesday, Lam continued to call on citizens to support the legislation, saying, “We are a very free society, so for the time being people have the freedom to say whatever they want to say.”
However, she also added that once the law passes, that could make demonstrations like we’ve seen over the past year illegal.
Also Tuesday morning, reports indicated that Hong Kong demand for VPN’s surged more than 600% the day that China announced the draft law.