Covid-19, The Killer of Bodily and Sociopolitical Goodness


Pratheek V. Tangirala

© Copyright 2023 by 
Pratheek V. Tangirala 
Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash
Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash
..[As of February 1st, 2021,] the state of emergency is declared in accordance with Article 417 of the 2008 Constitution… governance and jurisdiction is handed over to the Commander-in-Chief in accordance with the 2008 Constitution Article 418.”

General Min Aung Hlang, Prime Minister, Chairman of the State Administration Council of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar

The world has progressed immeasurably for the better of the condition of citizens. Far from the days of 1300s feudalism and the darkness of right and left-wing dictatorships in the mid-20th century, more people have lived in prosperity and liberty since the 1990s than at any point in history. This potential, however, is fast crumbling. COVID-19 has and continues to punish our progress to improve human rights by restricting the movement of common people and has led to world leaders abusing their power in novel ways. Although countries such as Brazil have re-elected respectable defenders of human rights, diversity, and the environment back to power even while in the pandemic, countless others have canceled democracy and willingly crumbled human rights due to the potential provided by COVID-19’s social restrictiveness across the East and West hemispheres.

The largest country in the world, and arguably the most powerful human rights abuser now, is China. Since 2017, China has detained some two million ethnic Turkic Muslims, most of the Uighurs, from the far western region of Xinjiang, in expansive internment camps that practice forced labor, torture, and birth control in addition to rigorous Sinicization and extreme censorship of activities and speech. The speaking and writing of the Uyghur language is strongly discouraged, and detainees are banned from leaving and forced to claim appreciation for the Party for providing them the opportunity to come to the camps. It’s not just the government, but even private corporations such as Huawei Technologies, the world’s largest telecommunications company, have been developing facial recognition to distinguish between Han and Uyghur Chinese, in addition to “hidden terrorist inclinations” within Uyghurs. While the official narrative for all of these malicious actions is “countering violent terrorism and separatism” while promoting “the pursuit of a better life by people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang,” the bitter reality is that the Communist Party is promoting an active genocide to homogenize China and eliminate any threats to Beijing’s absolutism as proven by hundreds of testimonies by escaped prisoners, one such victim who states that Communist policemen “hung [Uighurs] up and beat [them] on the thigh, on the hips with wooden torches, with iron whips.” Not limited to the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, China is no stranger to infringing on the sovereignty of other parts of its own land such as the islands of Hong Kong, where they’ve attempted to introduce a bill that’d allow China to extradite those who broke mainland Chinese laws, some of the most restrictive and totalitarian in the world, from Hong Kong, a free democracy. This has sparked protests from March 2019 which resurged after May 2020 when China introduced a new national security bill to allow Beijing to “take over prosecution in cases which are considered "very serious", while some trials will be heard behind closed doors.” This act was specifically drafted and passed now and not later since it’s harder for people to unite and advocate when the fear of an infectious disease outside is ingrained in their everyday minds. “Some'' and “serious” is about as far descriptors go, and this directly infringes upon the “One Country, Two Systems'' pledge that China gave to the United Kingdom when colonialism ended in 1997 where the Hong Kong judiciary and legislature would be entirely separate from the communist mainland, and fundamental freedoms such as press, religion (China practices state atheism and routinely persecutes religious groups such as Christians and Muslims in addition to LGBTQ+ persons), and protest would be protected until 2047. With fifteen protesters murdered, nearly 3,000 injuries, and over ten thousands protesters arrested, China has entirely broken its own Basic Law of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Governance. With regards to China’s neighbors like the Republic of China, consisting of Taiwan and other nearby islands, the Chinese Communist Party has sought to usurp power over it since the 1940s since the existence of a parallel, opponent government, one that claims all of China to itself, proves that the party was never able to totally assert its dominance. However, since 2021, the People’s Liberation Air Force has flown ever-more planes into Taiwanese airspace, China’s diplomats have condemned Taiwan’s independence in harsher terms, and has made open their plans to “reintegrate any and all separatist areas and take all courses of actions necessary to unify the Chinese nation.”

Just south of Tibet is the Buddhist, thickly forested former British colony of Myanmar. Once suffering under a brutal military junta that controlled all aspects of life for nearly five decades starting 1962, Myanmar finally accepted democracy and freedom in 2011. This way of life for the Burmese had continued well, but in February 2021, the Commander-in-Chief of the military, a general who barely hinted disdain with the governmental status quo after the November 2020 general elections, took to rallying his army behind him, declaring the three-month old election results null and void, and sentenced all of the democratically-elected heads of state to prison for decades on sham charges. The military has gotten back to its old ways of crushing dissent by banning free speech and protest and routinely executing dissidents. Over 3,000 protesters, including minors, have been killed, 14,000 are jailed, and over a million are internally displaced.

As most of the world is currently watching the FIFA World Cup and happily cheering on their national team, few people know the methods the oil-rich monarchy of Qatar utilized for the construction of their stadiums. The state spent approximately $220 billion (the claimed government figure is $8 billion), dwarfing the combined cost of seven previous tournaments. Apart from the countless allegations of bribery in the bidding process for the 2010 host selection, Qatar was known to practice the kafala system, where migrant workers (the vast majority of whom were sourced from the impoverished rural lands of the Indian Subcontinent) had the passports seized, were forced to pay thousands of dollars in immigration fees through taking out nearly unpayable loans, and were paid less than $7 a day, much of this money simply going back to their loans. Moreover, employers had absolute control over whether or not migrants could leave their job, which often involved outdoor physical labor at 120oF conditions. Housing was cramped and squalid, and food was limited and unsanitary. All of these led to 6,500 deaths due to exhaustion, disease, and even suicide. Qatar, like many of its Arab neighbors, has few rights for LGBTQ+ persons. Same-sex marriages are legally unrecognized, acts of homosexuality can lead to years of imprisonment and heavy fines, and LGBTQ+ support is unofficially but strongly discouraged.

Africa, a continent no stranger to centuries of exploitation, occupation, and totalitarianism, has had a resurgence of military juntas since 2021, all of which have taken advantage of the instability and fear caused by COVID-19 to usurp power. Five countries, namely Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Sudan, and Chad, continue to suffer under the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration, National Committee of Reconciliation and Development, Sovereignty Council, and Transitional Military Council, respectively. In Burkina Faso, two coup d’etats have taken place within eight months, one against the internationally-recognized government, and another one internally within the junta. No heads of state other than the junta leader himself are known to the public who had no say in the military takeover of their democracy. With this anonymity, Burkinabes are scared of living under an utterly unknown government where only soldiers are politicians. In Mali, a Ministry of Justice building was set ablaze, fifteen people were injured in an army shootout with four additional deaths, and while the junta promised to draft and enact a new constitution as well as end military rule by January 2021, no governmental reforms have been made since August 2020. In Guinea, while the September 2021 junta promised to only rule until March 2023 upon taking control, there’s no evidence to assert that they’ll leave office then as no preparations have been made since, a protester death has taken place, and multiple prisoners of conscience have been named. In October 2021, Sudan underwent a coup d’etat that interrupted their transition to democracy after three decades of Islamist, genocidal military rule. Massive protests arose, and while more than sixty deaths and nearly 150 injuries have occurred, they’ve sadly failed as the armed forces still dominate the central government and routinely jail anyone deemed an opponent. In Central Africa, Chad declared a military junta on April 20th 2021, suspended almost all other political parties, and killed 100 separatists and over sixty protesters due to the murder of its long-time president by Front for Change and Concord in Chad Libya-backed separatists in the northwestern Tibesti region. However, there seems to be some positive change arriving as the late president’s son has since regained power and promised fair leadership elections for common citizens between the FACT separatists responsible for the killing and the federal government later this year.

Eastern Europe:
Undoubtedly, the key geopolitical event of the year 2022 was the Russian Federation’s invasion of the Ukraine, and little needs to be said about the Russian military’s brutality and destructiveness. Ukraine, especially the Eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, has been engulfed by constant warfare that has resulted in around 150,000 deaths on both sides. Some 30% of all Ukrainians are currently displaced, of which three million have crossed the border into neighboring Romania and Poland. Entire cities such as Mariupol and Bakhmut have been almost completely destroyed, and deliberate massacres of hundreds civilians have taken place in Bucha, Izium, and countless other towns. The entire world, other than certain Russian allies which are themselves authoritarian, has condemned the invasion as a most egregious breach of sovereignty and human rights. President Putin’s defense? That "Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood” and that a country with a Jewish president was in need of “de-Nazificiation” through “special Russian peacekeepers.” Ukrainians want liberty and autonomy, and no country deserves to be occupied by a foreign power against its will and have its people slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands in the process of forced neocolonialism.

Like its number one ally, Europe’s last nation with actively-practiced capital punishment, Belarus, has quashed the democracy protests led by the Coordination Council for the Transfer of Power which seeks to end President Alexander Lukashenko’s six-term, 28 year-long tyrannic regime, the only regime the country has ever seen since its new constitution was drafted after independence from the communist Soviet Union. Statistics include that ten protesters are dead, 50,000 are arrested, and six are missing; a thousand cases of alleged extrajudicial torture have been reported, and over 1,500 injuries, including children, have taken place on both sides. Despite the 750,000 protesters who’ve fought to have dictator Lukashenko resign and the fact that around ~65% of Belarusians are believed to have voted against him, the president was sworn in again and made new laws stating that protests must have legal approval beforehand and no journalists or reporting be present onsite to take place. He even told the public that they “would have to kill him to get another election” and made his entire cabinet resign to consolidate power into himself. As of mid-2021, the protests had unfortunately failed, and there are no signs of Lukashenko stopping the increase of consolidation of power, let alone conceding.

These types of anti-democratic actions, even if more benign, aren’t limited to Russian allies; they can even penetrate the European Union, regarded by the world as the premier bastion of liberty and freedom. One such world leader who stands affront to his alliance’s values is Hungary’s President Viktor Orban, who unashamedly boasts that his ideal Hungary is an “illiberal Christian democracy,” (quite an oxymoron, because how can a government allow the people’s choice but be anti-freedom?)19 and that Hungarians “are not a mixed race and do not want to become a mixed race,” unwanting of migrants who he calls every single one a “poison[ous]... biological and terror risk.” When passing a bill that banned transgenders from changing their birth sex on official documentation, his party literally claimed that “the opinion of those [LGBTQ+] affected plays no role” in legal decision making. He is an opponent of multiculturalism, immigration, and secularism as well as a vicious critic of the EU who made his country drop almost seventy places down on the Reporters Sans Frontières NGO’s Press Freedom Index. And still, for Orban, this oppression is still not enough. At the start of COVID-19, he gave himself emergency powers that the Hungarian Constitution allows a president to keep for an unlimited time until the said crisis ends completely. Of course, the crisis end date is at the president’s absolute pleasure.

Overall, through these aggressions and hundreds of smaller examples in other nations, it is evident that respect for human rights is surely crumbling to an extent that wouldn’t have happened were it not for COVID-19. From banning print newspapers because they may carry diseases to banning public demonstrations in the name of social distancing, COVID-19 has literally paved the way for authoritarians to expand or manifest their oppression. The pandemic brings fears for health and leaving home, which in turn creates distrust and ruins the economy. Less happiness, less employment, and less wellbeing loom large; these are exact social factors needed to pursue twisted political goals. However, neither us in America nor the people suffering can stay silent. We need to campaign national representatives, whether they be envoys, embassies, or judiciaries, to end these human rights violations and create a more just, liberal world. Dictators don’t deserve to lead in the 21st century, and we as a peace-loving and respectful world need to affirm that Stalin, Hitler, Pinochet, Amin, Saddam, Duvalier, Mobutu, and Kim are but relics of lamentable mistakes to learn from and never repeat.

I’m Pratheek Tangirala, a 16 year-old high school student from Chantilly High School in Fairfax County, Virginia. I have not received any form of income for my work this past year other than a $25 cash prize in a high school writing contest (different essay), and nothing I’ve written has been openly published in print or on the Internet (journal/website) in this past year.

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