Pandemic used as ‘pretext’ to crush dissent: UN chief | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 23, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:18 AM, February 23, 2021

Pandemic used as ‘pretext’ to crush dissent: UN chief

UN chief Antonio Guterres yesterday criticised countries that are using the pandemic to justify cracking down on dissent, reining in the media and suppressing criticism.

Speaking at the opening of the United Nations Human Rights Council's main annual session, Antonio Guterres charged that authorities in a number of nations were using restrictions meant to halt the spread of Covid-19 to weaken their political opposition.

"Using the pandemic as a pretext, authorities in some countries have deployed heavy-handed security responses and emergency measures to crush dissent, criminalise basic freedoms, silence independent reporting and curtail the activities of non-governmental organisations," he said, without naming the countries.

"Human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, political activists, and even medical professionals are being detained, prosecuted and subjected to intimidation and surveillance for criticising government pandemic responses -- or the lack thereof," he added.

In some countries, he warned, "pandemic-related restrictions are being used to subvert electoral processes, weaken opposition voices and suppress criticism."

Speaking in a pre-recorded video message to the largely virtual meeting of the Geneva-based body, the UN chief also decried widespread misinformation around the world about the coronavirus and the pandemic.

In a number of cases, he said, "access to life-saving Covid-19 information has been concealed, while deadly misinformation has been amplified, including by those in power."

Guterres dedicated much of his annual speech before the UN's top rights body to the wide-ranging effects of the pandemic, which "hit the world without mercy."

"Covid-19 has deepened pre-existing divides, vulnerabilities and inequalities, as well as opened up new fractures, including fault-lines in human rights," he said.

He pointed to the hundreds of millions of families who have seen their lives "turned upside down" due to job losses and soaring debt.

At the same time, he said, "the disease has taken a disproportionate toll on women, minorities, persons with disabilities, older persons, refugees, migrants and indigenous peoples."

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