‘Tightening their stranglehold’: COVID-19 crackdown in MENA


The coronavirus pandemic has amplified dangers for probably the most susceptible within the Middle East and North Africa area (MENA), in accordance with a brand new report by Amnesty International.

Already current inequalities and discrimination have left some individuals – together with prisoners, refugees, migrants and minorities – disproportionately affected by the pandemic, mentioned the report by the human rights watchdog revealed on Wednesday.

In an instance of institutionalised discrimination, Israeli authorities didn’t present COVID-19 vaccinations to 5 million Palestinians within the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip when Israel’s vaccination drive started in December 2020.

“This move flagrantly violated Israel’s obligations as an occupying power under international law,” the report mentioned.

The pandemic additionally worsened the state of affairs for migrant employees tied to the “abusive” kafala sponsorship system in Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the rights watchdog mentioned.

While some Gulf nations waived penalties for overstaying visas, many migrant employees additionally confronted arbitrary dismissal from their jobs and weren’t paid for months.

Migrant employees had been additionally at an elevated danger of COVID-19 due to unsanitary circumstances and overcrowding in camps or shelters.

In Jordan, 1000’s of migrant employees who misplaced their jobs hardly ever had entry to social safety or different employment.

In Libya, minorities together with the Tabus and Touaregs, who’re from traditionally uncared for areas, had been denied enough healthcare both due to inaccessible hospitals managed by rival armed teams, or at occasions an absence of official paperwork, the report mentioned.

In a number of nations, prisoners had been at an elevated danger of contracting COVID-19 because of overcrowding, insanitary circumstances and poor air flow, the report discovered.

Overcrowding is frequent because of arbitrary detention practices, together with extended pre-trial detention with out efficient enchantment, as in Egypt, or administrative detention in Israel, the rights watchdog mentioned.

Heba Morayef, regional director for MENA at Amnesty International known as 2020 “a catastrophic year” for these already marginalised, because the pandemic made their state of affairs “more precarious than ever”.

“The pandemic has amplified divisions, discrimination and inequalities that already exist in the region. Governments must prioritise the provision of adequate medical care in prisons and to alleviate overcrowding; all those who have been arbitrarily detained must be released,” Morayef mentioned.

“It is crucial that governments in MENA ensure the healthcare they provide, including vaccines, is delivered without discrimination.”

Health employees unprotected

Health employees throughout the area suffered due to “willfully neglected health systems and pitiful social protection measures”, the report mentioned.

In Egypt, at the very least 9 well being employees who expressed security issues or criticised the federal government’s dealing with of the pandemic had been detained, pending investigations into “terrorism-related” fees and “spreading false news”.

Workers in Egypt, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia weren’t supplied with enough private protecting gear (PPE).

“The courage shown by health workers who have put their lives on the line despite tremendous risks must be recognised. With slow vaccination efforts and the pandemic showing no sign of abating in MENA, it is crucial that authorities ensure health workers are adequately protected,” Morayef mentioned.

A weaponised pandemic

Across the Gulf in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE authorities used the pandemic as a pretext to additional suppress the suitable to freedom of expression, together with by prosecuting people who posted vital feedback on social media about authorities responses to the pandemic, the rights group discovered.

Authorities in Algeria, Jordan and Morocco declared a state of emergency and punished criticism with arrests or prosecutions.

In Morocco, a brand new well being emergency legislation was used to prosecute human rights activists and citizen journalists for criticising the federal government’s dealing with of the pandemic, Amnesty mentioned.

In Egypt and Iran, journalists and social media customers confronted harassment or arrest for vital feedback and protection. In Tunisia, activists confronted felony fees for his or her criticism of native authorities’ distribution of help in the course of the nationwide lockdown.

In Israel, authorities resorted to raids, judicial harassment, and travel bans to intimidate peaceable critics – together with Amnesty International’s campaigner Laith Abu Zeyad who continues to face a travel ban.

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Protests to demand rights proceed

In Lebanon, simply days after the Beirut Port explosion on August 4, safety forces cracked down on unarmed protesters calling for justice for the victims with illegal power, firing tear fuel, rubber bullets, and pellets at unarmed demonstrators wounding greater than 230 individuals, Amnesty mentioned.

In Tunisia, protests towards financial hardship happened after months of lockdowns and had been met with disproportionate illegal power and arrests.

“As leaders across MENA exploited the pandemic to tighten their stranglehold on freedom of expression, the people in the region have continued to show that they will not remain silent in the face of oppression and injustice,” Morayef mentioned.