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Editorial: Tightening grip of authoritarian rule must not be justified amid pandemic

  • April 25, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 1:25 p.m.
  • English Press

There have been moves in which authorities have suppressed antigovernment forces by taking advantage of the situation in which efforts to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus make it difficult for people to gather for protests. Ratcheting up authoritarian rule under the guise of dealing with the crisis cannot be overlooked.

 

Many countries have taken strict measures such as restrictions on going out. There is an aspect that restricting people’s freedom and private rights to a certain level is inevitable in a time of emergency. However, stronger vigilance is needed regarding nondemocratic political systems and regimes led by autocratic leaders.

 

Since June last year, antigovernment demonstrations had intensified in Hong Kong. In the wake of the pandemic, gatherings of five or more people are currently prohibited.

 

Under such circumstances, Hong Kong authorities arrested 15 prominent pro-democracy figures who are critical of China. They include executive members of a group that organized the pro-democracy movement last year.

 

The Chinese government has allowed Hong Kong to have a high degree of autonomy based on the concept of “one country, two systems,” but in reality it has stepped up its interference. It is suspected that Beijing is tightening its grip on Hong Kong at a time when it is difficult for residents to take to the streets to protest.

 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has expressed strong concern that freedom of assembly and expression has been infringed in Hong Kong. In September, a Legislative Council election is scheduled. Pro-democracy figures must not be unfairly oppressed or prevented from campaigning.

 

In Cambodia, lawmakers have passed legislation that will enable bans on movement and gatherings and the tightening of media regulations, among other things, if the government declares a state of emergency. It is said this law can be applied to situations other than outbreaks of infectious disease. Concern over potential abuse of the law cannot be dispelled.

 

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has already dissolved the largest opposition party and established one-party rule. The European Union has decided to impose a sanction by partially suspending tariff preferences for the country, but China has strengthened economic assistance to it. It is feared that the Cambodian government may reinforce its authoritarian rule following the enactment of the law.

 

Hungary, an Eastern European country that has been under a state of emergency, has passed an unprecedented bill to extend Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s expanded authority indefinitely. This has paved the way for Orban, who is known for his iron fist, to use the extra powers permanently.

 

The bill also includes a measure to imprison people who spread “false information” harmful to measures against the virus. This could be used to crack down on opposition forces and control the media. The EU has warned that emergency measures “must not last indefinitely.”

 

The battle against the infectious disease is likely to continue for a long time. Efforts to secure freedom of speech and expression even at a time of crisis are essential. It is important for each country to try to exercise power in a restrained manner while the international community keeps an eye on authoritarian governments.

 

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 25, 2020.

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