New Zealand joins international crackdown on protests against COVID mandate


Last week, with the world understandably distracted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, New Zealand authorities used the moment to break up an embarrassing protest against the pandemic mandates. Like Canada’s Freedom Convoy, from which it was inspired, the protest was based on grassroots dissent from authoritarian policies, laced with a bit of madness, and had outlived its welcome. Much like its inspiration, the protest in New Zealand was forcibly shut down to the surprise of those with preconceived ideas about peaceful and tolerant democracies. It turns out that governments are most peaceful when there is little dissent to test that tolerance, and under the stress of the pandemic the gloves are coming off in an increasingly illiberal world.

“Police in riot gear evacuated a protest camp outside New Zealand’s Parliament on Wednesday, sparking violent clashes that saw dozens of arrests as protesters threw bricks and set fire to their tents,” said Michael E. Miller. wrote March 2 for The Washington Post. “In what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said was a planned operation to remove the camp, hundreds of officers gathered at dawn and began towing the cars and trucks that protesters used to block the streets. streets for more than three weeks, in imitation of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ in Canada.”

Weeks of protesters camped out in your city can piss off even people sympathetic to the cause — just ask Seattleites who remember the degenerating state of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) / Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) from summer 2020. Sanitation is deteriorating, noise disturbs people’s sleep and the situation can become violent, testing everyone’s limits. But, like their counterparts in Ottawa, Wellington authorities shocked many observers.

“Officers, many wearing riot shields, responded with pepper spray and rubber bullets. At least 60 people were arrested and three officers were taken to hospital,” Natasha Frost said. Noted for The New York Times violence from cops and protesters. “Scenes like these are rare in New Zealand, a country known for its relative remoteness, serenity and stability.”

Unlike Canada, which imposed a financial police state and is still drive out the evil-doers who dared to donate to the Freedom Convoy, New Zealand officials have so far settled for an old-fashioned whim. But politicians in both countries appear united in disbelief that anyone could disagree with them.

“After all, when we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and 400 people are hospitalized and 20,000 people are falling ill in a single day, it’s almost impossible to fathom that people would oppose efforts to slow this down. “said the New Zealand Prime Minister. Jacinda Ardern soufflé demonstrators camped around Parliament. He echoed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s slap in the face at the Freedom Convoy for “unacceptable views.”

It’s not exactly clear that protesters are “opposed to efforts” to curb COVID-19. While decentralized movements represent a range of viewpoints, polls indicate that many participants to oppose vaccination mandates, travel restrictions, curfews and other precepts that elevate the public health wisdom of the moment above personal freedom. If disagreeing with the government is “unacceptable”, that’s a problem given that the powers that be in liberal societies are supposed to be open to challenge. But politicians around the world are increasingly openly denying their fallibility.

“The world is becoming more authoritarian as undemocratic regimes become even more brazen in their repression and many democratic governments are suffering a setback in adopting their tactics of restricting free speech and undermining of the rule of law, exacerbated by what threatens to become a ‘new normal’ of Covid-19 restrictions”, the Swedish International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) warned end of 2021.

“Canadian citizens feel they have little control over their lives, a feeling that has been compounded by pandemic-related restrictions on individual freedoms,” The Economist commented in his Democracy Index 2021 even before the crackdown on the Freedom Convoy. New Zealand scored higher, but that was before the challenge and against the backdrop of a world where respect for individual freedoms by liberal democracies has long since deteriorated.

“Since 2008, freedom has declined for four out of five people worldwide, according to the recently released 2021 Human Freedom Index (HFI),” Ian Vasquez of the Cato Institute and Fred McMahon of the Fraser Institute observed last month. “And that’s the good news. The report, which we co-authored, is based on 2019 data, the most recent full data. The skies have darkened since then.”

“The decline in freedom is vast. It affects countries large and small, dictatorships and democracies, and all regions of the planet,” they added. “The freedoms that have declined the most are freedom of expression, religion, association and assembly.”

New Zealand already had a checkered history with free speech, including a national censor. With France, the country is co-sponsoring a countryside against allegedly “terrorist and violent extremist” content which inevitably overflowed restrictions on ideas that politicians find “unacceptable” or “impossible to understand”. David Seymour, leader of the libertarian-leaning ACT party, toured New Zealand last year to oppose a proposal to curb speech that some see as hateful. “I don’t think it’s going to help the state come and put one side or the other in jail depending on which side they think deserves it the most,” he said. told a reporter about threats to criminalize debate.

Unfortunately, the headlines offer further proof that the rot runs deep. In November, the Dutch police fired on rioters opposed to pandemic restrictions. French police tear gas used on anti-lockdown protesters last month. Protests in many countries have turned violent, though you might wonder what the authorities expect when they shut down businesses, restrict people’s movements and issue dictates. Even in the United States, officials express hostility to contradiction official accounts.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy “has called on tech companies to do their part by providing data on ‘COVID-19 misinformation,’ including its sources and its spread via search engines, social media platforms, social media services, and more. instant messaging and e-commerce sites, by May 2,” Raisonby Jacob Sullum warned Last week. “Although Murthy himself does not have the authority to compel the disclosure of this information, companies are strongly encouraged to cooperate, as the Biden administration can make life difficult for them by filing lawsuits, drafting regulations and supporting new laws.”

Already losing patience with populations who do not always do what they are told, governments have found in the COVID-19 pandemic an excuse to become less tolerant and more drastic. New Zealand is just one of many democracies where it is unclear how free they will be in the future.

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