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Eastern Europe, Central Asia Governments Responding To Coronavirus With 'Repressive' Measures, Amnesty Says

Riot police line up at a rally against a lockdown order in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, in Russia's North Caucasus.

Many governments in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are viewing the coronavirus pandemic as "a free pass to trample" on human rights, Amnesty International says, insisting that any strict measures to stop the spread of the virus must be "temporary, proportionate, and in line with human rights standards."

"As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds in the region, many governments seem more interested in cracking down on dissent than protecting public health," Heather McGill, Amnesty International’s Central Asia researcher, said on April 29.

Authorities in Azerbaijan, Russia, and other countries in the region "routinely" resort to repressive measures to silence critical views, and "unsurprisingly" responded to the epidemic with disregard for basic human rights, Amnesty said.

The London-based watchdog cited cases in both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in which the authorities enforced quarantines on blocks of flats by welding shut the doors and thereby forcing residents to stay inside.

In Ukraine, the group said the military had closed off the only access to a village, leaving the 150 residents with "no access to the outside world, and no means of getting food, medical services, or any other assistance."

And in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Chechnya, video evidence suggests that police have physically assaulted people for not wearing face masks.

In Belarus, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, political leaders have "belittled" the seriousness of the outbreak and promoted cures "with no proven efficacy," which Amnesty International said constitute threats to people's right to health.

Regarding freedom of expression and access to information, the group said authorities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia had "all too often" used newly introduced emergency powers to harass journalists and others who have tried to share information.

The governments of Azerbaijan and Russia "have prosecuted social media users, journalists, and medical professionals for exposing flaws in their COVID-19 responses. Other countries, like Uzbekistan, have imposed ruinous fines for dissemination of 'fake news,'” McGill said.

"The people of Eastern Europe and Central Asia deserve better during these tough and challenging times," McGill said. "Their governments must allocate all available resources to fulfill the right to health and put human rights at the center of their response to the virus."

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