06/25/2020, 09.51
ASIA
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Nobel laureates, activists and politicians: democracy under threat in Covid-19

Over 500 signatories include Asian leaders Shirin Ebadi and Jose Ramos-Horta, the former Secretary of State Albright, and actor Richard Gere. The health emergency is a "formidable global challenge". The fight against coronavirus exploited to repress freedoms. The Philippines case: in the pandemic Duterte has strengthened its powers. The accusations to China.

Bangkok (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Democracy is one of the victims of the global Covid-19 pandemic with some governments exploiting the fight against the new coronavirus to "strengthen the grip on power", deeply undermining basic rights and civil liberties.

This is the warning contained in an opened letter signed by over 500 political leaders, intellectual activists and Nobel laureates, including Shirin Ebadi, Lech Walesa and Jose Ramos-Horta, by the former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and by the actor and activist Richard Gere.

The health emergency, the authors warn, constitutes a "formidable global challenge to democracy". Already in recent weeks the United Nations had raised the alarm, speaking of "exploitation" of the fight against Covid-19 to repress democratic and personal freedoms. Now the warning is being taken up by hundreds of leading figures from the worlds of politics, culture and activism that "democracy is under threat, and people who care about it must summon the will, the discipline, and the solidarity to defend it.” 

"At stake are the freedom, health, and dignity of people everywhere." - continues the text.

The letter, which aims to raise "awareness and mobilize citizens", was created on the initiative of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International Idea), an organization based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The pandemic has already led to "serious consequences" on an "economic and social" level, they continue, and "it is very likely that it is already having profound political consequences", says Secretary General Kevin Casas-Zamora.

Casas-Zamora pointed to "cases like Hungary where basically the emergency powers invoked by the government had no expiration date." Those powers were lifted however by a unanimous vote in parliament on June 16 that took effect the following day.

Then there is the case, adds Kevin Casas-Zamora, of the Philippines of President Rodrigo Duterte who strengthened his powers with the pandemic and, in Salvador, the use of detention centers for the sick. The special powers, the activist warns, are "part of the arsenal" of weapons that can be used to counter the spread of the virus but must be "proportional" to the emergency.

The document does not quote China by name, but at certain point, referring to China, says: “It is not a coincidence that the current pandemic began in a country where the free flow of information is stifled and where the government punished those warning about the dangers of the virus—warnings that were seen as spreading rumors harmful to the prestige of the state. When voices of responsible citizens are suppressed, the results can be deadly, not for just one country but for the entire world”.

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