While all the media attention was focused on the World Economic Forum held in Davos last week, there was another trend that emerged on the international plane and could be observed in all events that broke out within the space of a week.
From Europe, to Asia, to Africa, one common feature witnessed in all the incidents was the suppression of free expression, the silencing of any voices of dissent and the attacks on pro-democracy movements.
Recently, Hong Kong’s authorities banned the pro-democracy candidate, Agnes Chow, from contesting the upcoming by-elections, since movements aimed at Hong Kong’s self-determination are deemed to be against their Basic Law. This restriction appears to be in sync with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s statements maintaining that any movement in favour of self-determination in Hong Kong is impermissible. Hong Kong has been under the direct rule of Beijing since 1997, under the ‘one country, two systems’ agreement, providing political autonomy to Hong Kong. However, if political parties based on the ideas of democracy are to be curtailed from having a voice within the local government, what then appears to be troubling is that there is certainly no autonomy in the true sense.
Similarly, the Brazilian court’s ruling upholding the conviction of former president Lula da Silva has been alleged to be politically motivated to undermine democracy in the country. Silva has been reported to be leading the race for the upcoming October 2018 presidential elections. However, being barred from contesting the elections would give a windfall gain to his rival candidate – a far-right lawyer, Jair Bolsonaro. It is claimed by protesters that da Silva’s opponents have greater corruption allegations levelled against them, and inaction of the courts towards them highlights that the court ruling is aimed at undermining da Silva’s liberal and democratic agenda.
The presidential election is also currently at the centre of Russia’s politics that has been marred by similar concerns as those for Brazil. The opposition leader Alexei Nevalny who has gathered a huge following in the run-up to the presidential elections due in March, 2018, was detained by the authorities following an anti-Putin rally. His office had also been broken into by the officials. These acts are allegedly aimed at undermining the threat posed by Nevalny to Putin, keeping the latter from continuing in office till 2024. Interestingly, Nevalny has already been declared to be ineligible to contest the election on grounds of corruption charges, which Nevalny has claimed to be false and politically motivated.
Similarly, the voices of dissent in Cyprus were also silenced when nationalists of Ankara origin attacked the office of a Turkish Cypriot newspaper after it published articles critical of Turkey’s military intervention against the Syrian Kurds. The attacks appear to have heightened following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s strong criticism against the newspaper.
On the other hand, reports of state agents’ involvement in mass murders of dissenters in Congo have also just emerged. The reports allege that the killings were carried out at the behest of security forces in response to the former’s protests against Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down as the president – something he was required to do in December 2016.
As alarming as these trends sound, they appear hardly surprising given how easily the US president openly criticised the media in his WEF speech. Therefore, when news that Moscow police raided cinemas showing the movie ‘The Death of Stalin’ emerge, one can easily connect the dots and realise that this is the harsh reality. From the developed world to the developing one, we are faced with governments which are sceptical of free speech and human rights. Until this trend is challenged, events such as the ones mentioned above will keep recurring as variations of the same theme.
The writer is an advocate of the high court.