The COVID-19 “infodemic”
By now it's a familiar story: oppressive regimes and militant sects are driving a COVID-19 wedge between their societies and religious minorities including Christians. "Economic insecurity, health concerns, fear and frustration are fertile grounds for scapegoating," contributors to the human-rights collaborative group Just Labs wrote in June. And the evidence continues to come in:
"In the process of combatting coronavirus, the Vietnamese government has doubled down on its repression of ethnic and religious minorities," mentions a spokesperson for ADF International. Protestant Hmong and Montagnard Christians, are being shut out of the country's medical and social services, which have been expanded to counter the pandemic.
The article continued to cite that, “Without proper documents, oppressed religious minorities cannot gain access to the public health system or most social benefits. And because the government forces these minority groups to live in shanty-town villages that lack proper water and sanitation infrastructure, social distancing practices have become practically meaningless."
A church was recently set on fire in Turkey. When police asked perpetrator why he had attempted to set fire a to church, he replied that Christians "brought the coronavirus to Turkey". According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Turkish government is doing little to settle rattled Christian nerves.
A Christian involved in church humanitarian work was detained and charged for spreading epidemics in May. In many instances, religious leaders and others are being jailed simply for assisting elders and providing mutual aid to neighbours.
In Cuba, “the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic has been a welcome pretext for the government authorities to intensify their pressure on dissidents and others deemed part of an opposition movement," said Rossana Ramirez, persecution analyst for world watch research with Open Doors. "On charges of disobedience or spreading disease, many have been fined exorbitant amounts, the equivalent of 300 USD. Since this is more than Cuban citizens earn in a year, they are unable to pay such fines and are consequently sent to prison.”
Worldwide, the criss-crossing torrents of Covid-19 information -- some legitimate, many not -- have caused what the World Health Organization has called an "infodemic." “The pandemic has caused a flare-up in existing religious intolerance in many countries. I am alarmed to see the upsurge in incitement to hatred, scapegoating religious or belief communities, including Christians, Jews, and Muslims for the spread of virus,” said Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
Militant extremists are exploiting this fog of blame in regions where Christians are under threat from fundamentalist Islamic movements. Such groups "have rapidly retooled their online campaigns to incorporate the coronavirus in their core messaging, from recruitment videos to official statements and propaganda. Each group promotes its own conspiracy theories, but nearly all now use the outbreak to vilify enemies, attract recruits and rile up followers," the Washington Post reports.
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