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WHETHER DEMOCRACY IS UNDER THE THREAT DURING PANDEMIC?

Author: Abhishek Johnson, IV year of B.Com.,LL.B from Govt Law College, Ernakulam.


Democracy, one of the finest systems in the world where the whole governing body is directly elected by the people. One of the great systems where citizens play a major role in law-making and other socio-legal aspects. But is the democratic system under siege in our world?


Countries which were considered as the mecca of democracy also became partial democratic during the last year. Do we enjoy a fully-fledged democratic system in our society? There are many nations in our world where there is no room for opposition and where the elections are happening unanimously. We have seen military actions which ousted democratically elected leaders from power recently. Authoritarianism is an upcoming trend when the whole world is under the threat of Covid-19.


Democracy and pandemic

The pandemic has created a great trauma in our life cycle as well as in social conditions. Due to the outbreak of covid-19 many nations in the world did a nationwide lockdown to curb Sars cov 2. Studies say more than 6 of 10 countries adopted measures during the Covid lockdown which leads to threatening democratic values. The studies examined that about 61% of nations implemented illegal and unnecessary restrictions on their citizens. Even nations that are famous for their democratic norms are now being acting as an elected autocratic state. About 43% of countries that are considered widely democratic fall under this.


The countries have adopted measures to curb the pandemic which are authoritarian in nature. Covid took us to a health emergency, and the majority of countries were under lockdown. It pushes the government to formulate policies which are contradicting democratic values. The policies like locking oneself in their house, detention, restricts fundamental rights and liberties of an individual.


More specifically, we can have two aspects of measures against covid which are threatening to democratic values. Firstly, the physical detention of citizens in the country leads to the slow pace of spreading of the virus, but it also restricts the civil and political rights of an individual. Such measures may be extended to inter-nation travel bans, public gatherings like marriages, etc.


Secondly, when we look at the perspective of the division of power, where the executive gets the ability to hold more power than the legislature, and this is done by limiting the power of the media, the fourth estate.


According to the studies conducted, 55% of the whole world population lives in a democracy where out of 162 countries, 99 are counted as democracies, 33 as authoritarian, and 30 as hybrid governments. The government took the opportunity to shut the mouth of the oppressors during this pandemic hour. It took this chance to make democracy unstable and lead the way to acquire autocracy in a nation.


It took the opportunity to suppress the opposition as well as their main critics. Authorities are using this virus as a pretext of a political agenda that was already in place, there has been a crackdown on the minority group who were often persecuted before the target such as Muslims in India and other minorities. Historical religious monuments like Babari Masjid of India and Hagiya Sophia of Turkey were destructed and reclassified by the ruling fascist governments.


In India, the newly enacted farm law, Environment Impact Assessment Draft 2020, Industrial relation code bill was enacted without even considering it with states or the related organizations. These acts of brutality are done by many fascist countries including Hong Kong, Brazil, China during the time when the whole world was becoming a graveyard.


Freedom house research found evidence of police violence against civilians in 59 countries. The officials had perpetrated violence against citizens, detained people without reasonable grounds, and stepped into their rights. Detentions related to the pandemic have been reported in at least 66 countries, including 66% of them are partially free countries.


In Egypt, as reported, the military used this opportunity to repress political activists, organizations, journalists, and doctors. Sources say in North Korea the supreme leader, Kim Jong Un, declared to shoot and kill the first victim of Covid-19, which was a piece of shocking news for all democratic minds in the world. The pandemic also endangered the lives of many critics of the authoritarian governments like Jack Ma of China and Alexei Navalny of Russia and the list continues.


At the same time, this period was used for a coup d’état by the military and other strong political groups. In India, the Congress ruling Madhya Pradesh government was overturned by the Centre ruling BJP by defecting 22 of its legislators. The same thing was done by the military forces in Myanmar by ousting the democratically elected government of Myanmar led by Aung San Syu Ki which resulted in 737 deaths and about 3299 detentions. A similar coup was experienced in Mali which led to the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Prime Minister Boubou Cissie. All these coups were done by the military groups as well as the powerful groups where the government was elected by the people. Human rights activists, media are now blocked by many autocratic nations.


The US based Freedom House which conducts research on political scenarios of the world states that the number of countries designated as non-free was at its highest level since 2006. Countries like India which are often a shining model of the great democracies in the world have now become partly democratic as an annual report on political rights and liberties. In short, countries that are facing rigid authoritarian rule became more autocratic, and countries that are democratic are now facing challenges in democracy.


Threat to Media

Media is considered as the fourth estate of democracy, it is clear that the media has the right to interfere in public matters. Media enunciates the voice of the public, but during the last year the governing system tried to quench the fourth estate. Amidst all the pandemic, the free flow of unbiased news should be considered top priority, but when we deeply analyze press freedom we can see that in many countries there has been a tremendous decline in press freedom rights.


Although there is a super spread of the Coronavirus, the journalists had taken blood, sweat, and tears to actively report the news. During the pandemic there were about 473 media violations (IPI) took place. Around 204 journalists got arrested from Asia, America, Europe and Africa. At least 91 of 190 countries have imposed restriction on media after the outbreak of the pandemic.


It has become extremely dangerous to report corruption and assault done by bureaucrats and politicians under the cover of Covid-19 controls. In order to control the leakage of information, the government has cracked down the media and prevented the journalist from reporting the Covid events like harassment, detention which are against democratic values.


In Nigeria, the journalist who alleged the collapse of the Covid treatment center got detained by authorities and threatened to impose criminal charges against him. Many countries have imposed a certain ban on social media for restricting fake news which also restricts the space to condemn government activities. While the pandemic is at its tip and the public gatherings are restricted, online social and communal life must not only be preserved but also should be actively supported by the state.


Bachelet reports that India got listed among the 12 countries that had to tighten up the censorship along with the arrests and detention of people critical of authorities amidst this pandemic. Vienna-based International Press Institute found those emergency measures often included provisions to combat fake news that was used to jail or breach free speech. Newly framed laws and regulations passed by different nations for the sake of safety were misused by the governments to harass and restrict media.


Some governments believe that limiting press freedom is a necessity during health emergencies, but the truth contradicts that the media plays the role of a watchdog in society. The new forms of restrictions will definitely weaken the media, as well as the government activities will be later opaque and translucent for the public. In a survey conducted by Reporters without borders, a French NGO on world press freedom, it is shocking that the countries like India were considered the most dangerous countries for journalists and got positioned 142nd out of 180 countries in the survey. All these activities show that countries including self-proclaimed democratic nations are also under the threat.


Moreover, the Media and NGO’s got their mouths shut by the dictators. The pandemic has been taken as a golden opportunity by the government to harass the victims and minorities. These kinds of atrocities cannot be compromised for the sake of any criteria. Democratic values should sustain in our world for the formation of a better world.


People have the right to choose who should govern them and have the right to question the government for their bad deeds. The media has a crucial role to play in a democratic ecosystem as well. History tells us that pandemics caused the fall of empires and led to the creation of unprecedented norms in our social economic and political policies which are still existing in the present world. Let us hope that the covid-19 pandemic won’t taint any of our democratic values as the plague of Athens destroyed the oldest democratic polity in the world.


References

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0002764221992813

https://ipi.media/covid19-media-freedom-monitoring/

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/pandemic-and-democracy/article31600134.ece

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-again-placed-at-142nd-rank-in-press-freedom/article34377079.ece

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/pandemic-and-democracy/article31600134.ece

https://www.voanews.com/press-freedom/pandemic-media-restrictions-limited-access-news

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/pandemic-putting-democracy-under-threat-study/articleshow/79645492.cms?from=mdr

https://freedomhouse.org/report/special-report/2020/democracy-under-lockdown