Photo: Martin Lessenthin at a vigil for human rights in Hong Kong on the Global Day of Action 2020 in Frankfurt. Image rights: ISHR


A comment by Martin Lessenthin

On Human Rights Day on 10 December, an annual assessment is made: Has the human rights situation improved or deteriorated? Unfortunately, it is not possible to take a positive account for 2020. The first year of the Corona pandemic was a very bad year for political prisoners, for freedom of expression, freedom of religion and other fundamental rights.

The pandemic is being instrumentalized as a welcome pretext for discrimination against religious minorities, the isolation of political prisoners and the harassment of human rights defenders. It has become a tool of oppressors who, regardless of their political stance, disguise human rights violations as pandemic fighting.

In Iran, Cuba and Turkey for example, thousands of criminal prisoners have  been released from overcrowded prisons, as the prisons have not been able to take proper hygiene measures to continue the sentences. The political prisoners, on the other hand, were not released. The concern for their health was probablylower than the fear of those in power of the political prisoners.

Due to the disastrous hygiene conditions in Iranian prisons, many political prisoners have become infected with the Coronavirus. So did the prominent human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was honoured with the Human Rights Prize of the German Judicial Association in September 2020 and awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize a few days ago.

In many countries,aid measures to help people suffering from the pandemic exclude members of minorities. In Egypt, Christians are not allowed to distribute relief goods, protective masks, and food to Muslims “because they transmit Corona and are unclean.” In Pakistan, Christians were marginalized or provided with less rations than Muslims when distributing food.

Indian authorities, on the other hand, blame Muslims in the country for the spread of the Coronavirus. They announced that it is estimated that more than a third of the country’s cases are related to the Tablighi Jamaat group, which held a large preaching meeting in India in March 2020. As a result, young Muslim men who distributed food to the poor were attacked with cricket bats. In the state of Punjab, messages were broadcasted over loudspeakers at Sikh temples urging people not to buy milk from Muslim dairy farmers as they were infected with the Coronavirus.

After the outbreak of the pandemic, the persecution of Christians and the destruction of places of worship in the People’s Republic of China continued. On March 13, 2020, the cross was removed from a church in Guoyang District in Anhui Province. The Chinese Communist Party wants to ensure at all costs that Christian life no longer exists in public. These measures are also directed against Christians who are publicly praying for an end of the pandemic.

Martin Lessenthin has been Head of Press and Public Relations since 2000 and Spokesperson of the Board of Management and Member of the Executive Board of the International Society for Human Rights since 2001. In 2016 and 2020 he was elected by the German Bundestag as a voting member of the curatorial of the German Institute for Human Rights (DIMR).