A UN expert has warned that governments must “clamp down” on hate speech that blames minorities for the COVID-19 pandemic. The expert said they are “alarmed” at the “upsurge” in the targeting of minority groups. And as a result called on governments to make a “firm commitment” to tackling the issue.
The warning comes as research has shown that the far right is using the pandemic to further its agenda.
Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief made the comments in a press release. He pointed out that “religious or belief communities” are being scapegoated by people intent on blaming them for the pandemic.
According to Shaheed, asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees are also being targeted. He revealed that:
Those targeted also have faced verbal abuse, death threats, physical attacks and experienced discrimination accessing public services, including denial of vital health services.
The Special Rapporteur argued that such behaviour is “not acceptable”.
As a result, he makes two suggestions. Firstly, governments must “combat disinformation”, saying:
it is critical that States establish effective strategies and channels of communication to provide accurate and reliable information to the public
Secondly, he declared that there must be a “firm commitment” by governments “to curb hate speech that stigmatises people on the grounds of their religion or belief”. And he called on all parts of society to “reject hate and exclusion”.
Instead, he insisted that people “provide support and solidarity to those who could be victimised at this difficult time”.
Shaheed made his comments as a new study has shown that the far right is attempting to use the pandemic to further its ends. In a study published by Graphika it was revealed that extremists are trying “to propagate racism and anti-immigration sentiment”.
Citing the example of French and Italian far right activists, Graphika found “clickbait news sites that frequently posted racist and anti-immigrant content” were popular. Such content includes conspiracy theories that Muslim and African people “have special quarantine rules” or “are not respecting the quarantine”.
Featured image via Pixabay – Miguel Á. Padriñán