Thousands of migrant workers from Uzbekistan have been stranded for weeks at the Russia-Kazakhstan border. Left without work in Russia amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they sought to make their way home by land through Kazakhstan—only to find the border closed by Kazakh authorities. The migrants have set up a makeshift camp in an open field, where they are struggling without adequate food, water or supplies in severe summer heat.
The Italian government passed a law May 13 paving the way for some 200,000 undocumented workers to apply for six-month legal residency permits. But just a few weeks later, the initial atmosphere of hope has quickly faded. The amnesty was one measure in a €55 billion ($59.6 billion) stimulus package meant to support Italy's economy as the country struggles with impacts of the coronavirus. Italy has had one of the most severe outbreaks in the world, with nearly 230,000 confirmed cases and more than 32,500 deaths as of May 25.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists is urging Chinese authorities to immediately release journalist Zhang Zhan, drop any charges against her, and ensure that the media can cover the coronavirus pandemic without fear of arrest. Zhang, an independent video journalist who had been posting reports from Wuhan on Twitter and YouTube since early February, went missing in the city on May 14, one day after she published a video critical of the government's countermeasures to contain the virus, according to news reports. On May 15, the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau issued a notice stating that Zhang had been arrested and detained for "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," and was being held at the Pudong Xinqu Detention Center. If convicted, she could face up to five years in prison, according to the Chinese criminal code.
Unemployed migrant workers left stranded by the COVID-19 lockdown have repeatedly clashed with police in India's industrial hub of Gujarat state, and the situation is fast escalating. Protesters demanding transport back to their homes were again attacked by police at a market on the outskirts of Surat on May 4; tear-gas canisters were met with pelted stones. (NDTV, GulfNews) Riots yet again erupted four days later in Ahmedabad, as security forces attacked residents defying stringent lockdown orders. (AFP, FirstPost)
Peru's right-wing opposition leader Keiko Fujimori, who had been jailed in January while corruption charges are pending against her, was released from pre-trial detention at Lima's Chorrillos prison on May 4, ostensibly on fears she could be exposed to the coronavirus. Fujimori will be under "restricted release," meaning she cannot leave Lima without prior authorization and must check in every 30 days with judicial authorities. Of course there has been no general discharge from Peru's dangerously overcrowded prisons, and one leading anti-corruption prosecutor in the Fujimori case, Rafael Vela, is protesting her release as "illegitimate." (Milenio, Japan Times, Diario Uno)
In countries across the world, the impoverished are in the paradoxical position of being disproportionately impacted both by COVID-19 and by the police-state measures imposed in response to the pandemic—and consequent economic pain. In Lebanon, which had been in the midst of a national uprising before lockdown orders were imposed in March, protests have been re-ignited just as the lockdown is being eased—and with far greater rage. Violence escalated April 28 in the northern city of Tripoli as residents angered by the country's economic collapse set banks on fire and met volleys of tear-gas from security forces with barrages of pelted stones. The outburst came at the end of a massive funeral procession for a young man who died the previous day, apparently after being shot in a street clash with army troops. Mirroring a similar incident in Venezuela last week, mourners dubbed the deceased "Martyr of the Hunger Revolution." (WaPo, Foreign Policy)
According to widespread reports in the Nigerian media, aggrieved workers at a Chinese company in the Ogun-Guangdong Free Trade Zone (OGFTZ), located in Ado-Odo/Ota district of Ogun state, staged a brief uprising at the complex after they were locked within the premises, ostensibly under emergency measures to contain COVID-19. Several vehicles and a sentry box were set ablaze. Local police authorities confirmed to Nigerian news site Punch that the incident ocurred on April 14. The reports include video footage of workers protesting within the complex as smoke billows in the air.
It's certainly an irony that with police-state measures mounting worldwide to enforce lockdowns and contain COVID-19, Trump is now claiming sweeping executive power to lift lockdowns in the US in spite of the pandemic. Asserting his prerogative to override state governors and order economies open again, Trump stated April 13: "When someone is president of the United States, the authority is total." After requisite media outcry, he later reiterated this assertion on Twitter. (NYT, The Guardian) The response in media and the Twittersphere has been to call this out as blatantly unconstitutional. While it is, of course, necessary to point out the illegitimacy of Trump's pretended power-grab, it is also side-stepping the real threat here: of the pandemic being exploited to declare an actual "state of exception" in which constitutional restraints are suspended altogether—perhaps permanently.