COVID-19 lockdown related arrests continue to impact on state-citizens relations

ACCORD COVID-19 Infographic
References: ACLED

The continued arrests of citizens for various violations of lockdown measures is expected to increase tensions between states and citizens.

The various lockdown measures that were put in place to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in different African countries resulted in a spike in arrests for non-compliance with state of emergency regulations or other preventive measures. A month into the lockdowns, countries such as Angola, Morocco, Mozambique, South Africa, Eswatini, and Tunisia continued to have incidents where people were arrested for failing to abide by the rules and regulations.

Seven weeks later, some of these countries continue to experience arrests as a result of non-compliance. In Angola, in the first week of May, 59 people were arrested by defence and security forces in Zaire province over disobedience. In addition, 936 motorcycles and 165 vehicles were seized by the National Police in Benguela. On a positive note however there was a decrease in serious crimes in the first 30 days of the State of Emergency, where it was reported that there was a significant reduction in violent crimes such as homicides and firearm offences.

This experience is similar to that of South Africa where there was also a reduction in violent crimes a month into its lockdown. In Mozambique, 869 individuals were reportedly detained during the month of April for failing to comply with regulations. In Morocco, as of mid-May, it was announced that 65,352 people were prosecuted for various offences relating to violating the existing state of emergency regulations. Of these, only 3,106 had remained behind bars until their court appearances due to the fact that they were suspected of having other offences such as drug-trafficking, and robbery. On 10 May 2020, it was reported that  a citizen was charged for spreading fake news regarding the permanent closure of schools in Morocco for 2020. Many countries have made the reporting of fake news a criminal offence and there have been previous incidents of people being arrested in countries such as Mauritius, Kenya and South Africa for allegedly spreading fake news.

In addition to the countries listed above, there are new crime related cases and arrests in Comoros, Gabon and South Sudan. One week after reporting its first case of COVID-19, authorities in Comoros arrested several people in breach of the curfew. In Gabon, two individuals were arrested for trafficking fake COVID-19 treatments, among other offences. Authorities in Yambio County in South Sudan arrested 7 members of the Episcopal Church of Demaku for defying the COVID-19-related ban on large gatherings, and a few days’ later authorities in Kapeota, in Eastern Equatoria State detained and quarantined 54 people who had travelled from Juba to Kapoeta, violating the inter-state crossing ban.

South Africa continued to show a high rate of crime related incidents related to the lockdown rules and regulations.  The country is among those with the highest rate of infections together with a stringent preventive approach.   Seven weeks into its lockdown, people continued to defy rules and regulations. More than 1000 people were arrested in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal during the week of 10 May, for failing to follow the lockdown regulations. Since the prohibition of the sale of cigarettes, there have been at least seven reported police raids on illicit cigarette dealers in Kwazulu-Natal alone. On a positive note the pandemic has reportedly disrupted the illegal drug trade. In the city of Pietermaritzburg, police intercepted a marijuana shipment bound for the Western Cape.

The continued arrests of citizens for various violations of lockdown measures is expected to increase tensions between states and citizens. There is no doubt that while such arrests occur, there are equally other citizens showing compliance with the regulations. What will strengthen trust between citizens and institutions will be the manner in which security agencies conduct themselves when monitoring compliance with lockdown measures.

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