Staunton, April 7 – Governments around the world exploited the coronavirus pandemic to justify expanding state powers and increase repression against their peoples, Amnesty International says. But even in this sad worldwide picture, Russia stood out in how far it was prepared to go in this regard.
The human rights organization devoted an entire section to Russia, and its findings as presented there have been summarized by MBC journalist Dmitry Rebrov (amnesty.org/en/documents/pol10/3202/2021/ru/ and mbk-news.appspot.com/suzhet/pod-pokrovom-pandemii-pravitelstva/).
The Amnesty report said that the Russian authorities used the pandemic as a cover to increase their repression of the population “to a qualitatively new level” by using measures supposedly designed to protect the people from the disease to take away their rights and freedoms.
Thus, the new Russian law on “fake new” was supposedly intended to block the spread of false information about the coronavirus that could spread panic or lead to counter-productive behavior was in fact used against those who protested against the Kremlin over a wide variety of issues.
Citing the danger of the spread of the pandemic, the Russian authorities banned meetings and punished those went ahead anyway if the meetings were protests against the regime but did not take analogous steps against meetings supporting the regime and those who took part in them despite the fact that both kinds of meetings could spread the disease.
Under cover of the coronavirus, the Russian government increased its repression of journalists and others who took steps the regime didn’t like, including but not limited to opposition figure Aleksey Navalny, Shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev, and political blogger Nikolay Platoshkin.
Over the course of the pandemic year, the regime also further limited the activities of NGOs and human rights activists and extended its troubling term “’foreign agents’” to ever more institutions, groups, and even individuals. Amnesty called these actions both “’draconian’” and “’harmful.’”
Perhaps especially disturbing were the repressive actions of the Russian regime against doctors and other medical personnel who called attention to shortcomings in Moscow’s handling of the pandemic, precisely the opposite of what they should have been doing if the regime were truly interested in fighting the coronavirus.
Amnesty also pointed out that repressions that had absolutely nothing to do with the pandemic but began well before it increased as well, with cases against the Jehovah’s Witnesses increasing in number and sentences increasing in severity during the pandemic year.
But the pandemic did make conditions in Russia’s already notorious prison facilities worse as well, something the regime used its powers to try to hide again invoking when anyone questioned what it was doing the need to ensure that the pandemic did not spread more widely there.