RUTH'S BLOG
2020: One for the history books

The past year has been all about restriction of our freedoms and not just to stop the spread of Covid

24 Dec 2020
BY RUTH SMEETH
photo: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

2020 will undoubtedly be a year studied for generations, a year dominated by Covid-19.

A year in which 1.77 million people have died (as of this week) from a virus none of us had heard 12 months ago.

We have all lived in various stages of lockdown, some of our core human rights restricted, even in the most liberal of societies, in order to save lives.

A global recession, levels of government debt which have never been seen in peacetime in any nation.

Our lives lived more online than in the real world. If we’ve been lucky a year dominated by Netflix and boredom; if we weren’t so lucky a year dominated by the death of loved ones and the impact of long Covid.

Rather than being a year of hope this has been a year of fear. Fear of the unknown and of an illness, not an enemy.

Understandably little else has broken through the news agenda as we have followed every scientific briefing on the illness, its spread, the impact on our health services, the treatments, the vaccines, the new virus variants and the competence of our governments as they try to keep us safe.

But behind the headlines, there have been the stories of people’s actual lives. How Covid-19 changed them in every conceivable way. How some governments have used the pandemic as an opportunity to bring in new repressive measures to undermine the basic freedoms of their citizens. Of the closure of local newspapers – due to public health concerns as well as mass redundancies of journalists due to a sharp fall in revenue.

2020 wasn’t just about the pandemic though.

We saw worldwide protests as people responded under the universal banner of Black Lives Matter to the egregious murder of George Floyd.

In Hong Kong, the CCP enacted the National Security Law as a death knell to democracy and we saw protestors arrested and books removed from the public libraries – all under the guise of “security”.

The world witnessed more evidence of genocidal acts in Xinjiang province as the CCP Government continues to target the Muslim Uighur community.

In France, the world looked on in horror as Samuel Party was brutally murdered for teaching free speech to his students.

Genuine election fraud in Belarus led to mass protests, on many occasions led by women – as they sought free and fair elections rather than the sham they experienced this year.

In America, we lived and breathed the Presidential Election and witnessed the decisive victory of a new President – as Donald Trump continued to undermine the First Amendment, the free press and free and fair democracy.

In Thailand, we saw mass protests and the launch of the Milk Tea Alliance against the governments of Hong Kong, Thailand and Taiwan, seeking democracy in Southeast Asia.

In Egypt, the world witnessed the arrest of the staff of the EIPR for daring to brief international diplomats on the number of political prisoners currently held in Egyptian jails.

Ruhollah Zam was executed by his government for being a journalist and a human rights activist in Iran.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. From Kashmir to Tanzania to the Philippines we’ve heard report after report of horrendous attacks on our collective basic human rights. 72 years after United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights we still face daily breaches in every corner of the planet.

While Index cannot support every victim or target, we can highlight those who embody the current scale of the attacks on our basic right to free expression.

Nearly everybody has experienced some form of loneliness or isolation this year. But even so we cannot imagine what it must be like to be incarcerated by your government for daring to be different, for being brave enough to use your voice, for investigating the actions of ruling party or even for studying history.

So, as we come to the end of this fateful year I urge you to send a message to one of our free speech heroes:

  • Aasif Sultan, who was arrested in Kashmir after writing about the death of Buhran Waniand has been under illegal detention without charge for more than 800 days;
  • Golrokh Emrahimi Iraee, jailed for writing about the practice of stoning in Iran;
  • Hatice Duman, the former editor of the banned socialist newspaper Atılım, who has been in jail in Turkey since 2002;
  • Khaled Drareni, the founder of the Casbah Tribune, jailed in Algeria for two years in September for ‘incitement to unarmed gathering’ simply for covering the weekly Hirak protests calling for political reform in the country;
  • Loujain al-Hathloul, a women’s rights activist known for her attempts to raise awareness of the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia;
  • Yuri Dmitriev, a historian being silenced by Putin in Russia for creating a memorial to the victims of Stalinist terror and facing fabricated sexual assault charges.

Visit http://www.indexoncensorship.org/JailedNotForgotten to leave them a message.

Happy Christmas to you and yours and here’s to a more positive 2021.

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