Hungary, Iran, and Other Countries Use Coronavirus Pandemic to Suppress Journalists
- 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.
See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Politico) (Axios)
95-Year-Old Woman Dies After Police Tases Her in Nursing Home
The officer involved was suspended with pay and charged with assault.
A 95-year-old Australian woman whom police tasered in a nursing home last week has reportedly died from her injuries.
Clare Nowland, who had dementia and required a walking frame to stand up and move, was living at the Yallambee Lodge in Cooma in southeastern Australia.
At about 4:15 a.m. on May 17, police and paramedics responded to a report of a woman standing outside her room with a steak knife.
They encountered Nowland, then reportedly tried to negotiate with her for several minutes, but she didn’t drop the knife.
The five-foot-two, 95-pound woman walked toward the two officers “at a slow pace,” police said at a news conference, so one of them tasered her.
She fell to the floor and reportedly suffered a fractured skull and a severe brain bleed, causing her to be hospitalized in critical condition.
Nowland passed away in a hospital surrounded by her family, the New South Wales police confirmed in a statement today.
After a week-long investigation, the police force also said that the senior constable involved would appear in court next week to face charges of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and common assault.
NSW police procedure states that tasers should not be used against elderly or disabled people absent exceptional circumstances.
Following the incident, community members, activists, and disability rights advocates expressed bewilderment and anger at what they called an unnecessary use of force, and some are now questioning why law enforcement took so long to prosecute the officer involved.
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The New York Times) (CNN)
U.K. Police Face Backlash After Arresting Anti-Monarchy Protesters
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that some of the arrests “raise questions” and “investigations are ongoing.”
The Public Order Act
A controversial protest crackdown law in the U.K. is facing criticism after dozens of anti-monarchy protesters were arrested during the coronation ceremony in London over the weekend.
The law, dubbed the “Public Order Act” was passed roughly a week ahead of the coronation for King Charles III. It gives police more power to restrict protesters and limits the tactics protesters can use in public spaces. It was condemned by human rights groups upon its passing, and is facing a new round of heat after 52 people were arrested over coronation protests on Saturday.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said protesters were arrested for public order offenses, breach of the peace and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. The group said it gave advance warning that its “tolerance for any disruption, whether through protest or otherwise, will be low and that we would deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining the celebration.”
It is currently unclear how many of those arrested were detained specifically for violating the Public Order Act, however, some of those arrested believe the new law was used against them.
“Make no mistake. There is no longer a right to peaceful protest in the UK,” Graham Smith, the CEO of anti-monarchy group Republic tweeted after getting arrested. “I have been told many times the monarch is there to defend our freedoms. Now our freedoms are under attack in his name.”
An Attempt to “Diminish” Protests
During a BBC Radio interview, Smith also said he believes the dozens of arrests were premeditated.
“There was nothing that we did do that could possibly justify even being detained and arrested and held,” Smith claimed.
“The whole thing was a deliberate attempt to disrupt and diminish our protest.”
Yasmine Ahmed, the U.K. Director of Human Rights Watch, also tweeted that the arrests were “disgraceful.”
“These are scenes you’d expect to see in Russia not the UK,” she wrote.
When asked about the controversy, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters officers should do “what they think is best” in an apparent show of support for the Metropolitan Police.
For his part, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he is looking into the matter.
“Some of the arrests made by police as part of the Coronation event raise questions and whilst investigations are ongoing, I’ve sought urgent clarity from Met leaders on the action taken,” Khan tweeted.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (CNN) (The Washington Post)
Foreign Nationals Make Mad Dash out of Sudan as Conflict Rages
The conflict’s death toll has surpassed 420, with nearly 4,000 people wounded.
As the 10-day-long power struggle between rival generals tore Sudan apart, foreign governments with citizens in the country scrambled to evacuate them over the weekend.
On Sunday, U.S. special forces landed in the capital Khartoum and carried out nearly 100 American diplomats along with their families and some foreign nationals on helicopters.
An estimated 16,000 Americans, however, remain in the country and U.S. officials said in a statement that a broader evacuation mission would be too dangerous.
Christopher Maier, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity warfare, said in a statement that the Pentagon may assist U.S. citizens find safe routes out of Sudan.
“[The Defense Department] is at present considering actions that may include use of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to be able to observe routes and detect threats,” he said.
Germany and France also reportedly pulled around 700 people out of the country.
More countries followed with similar efforts, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, China, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Indonesia.
Yesterday, a convoy carrying some 700 United Nations, NGO, and embassy staff drove to Port Sudan, a popular extraction point now that the airport in Khartoum has closed due to fighting.
Reports of gunmen prowling the capital streets and robbing people trying to escape, as well as looters breaking into abandoned homes and shops, have persuaded most residents to stay indoors.
Heavy gunfire, airstrikes, and artillery shelling have terrorized the city despite several proposed ceasefires.
Over the weekend, the reported death toll topped 420, with nearly 4,000 people injured, though both numbers are likely to be undercounted.