The United States is losing the moral high ground when it comes to cracking down on inconvenient protest movements, according to several governments that the U.S. has accused of anti-democratic behaviour in the past.
Officials in Iran, mainland China, Russia, Venezuela, North Korean and the pro-Chinese government in Hong Kong have all called out U.S. President Donald Trump after he told state governors to “dominate” those protesting the death of George Floyd — something that he has criticized other nations for doing in the past. Trump has also claimed without evidence that the protests are illegitimate, and described the protesters as “terrorists,” “thugs” and “lowlifes.”
The United States’ rivals were eager to point out the systemic injustice behind the death of Floyd, the latest Black man to die during an interaction with police.
Floyd died last month in Minneapolis after a police officer pinned him to the ground for several minutes while pressing a knee into his neck. The incident happened shortly after Breonna Taylor, a Black EMT, was shot dead by police in her home in Louisville, Ky., and after video emerged of the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger who was ambushed by white vigilantes in Georgia in February. Tensions were also running high over the case of Christian Cooper, a Black birdwatcher who was falsely accused of threatening a white woman in Central Park. Cooper recorded the entire incident and the woman was fired after the clip emerged online.
Anger over these incidents has sparked protests across the United States, with all-too-familiar slogans like, “I can’t breathe,” “No justice, no peace,” “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “Black lives matter” ringing out at the demonstrations.
“To the American people, the world has … heard your outcry over this state oppression,” said Abbas Mousavi, a spokesperson for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, on Monday. “The American regime is pursuing violence and bullying at home and abroad.”
Iran has a long history of human rights abuses, including police crackdowns and long prison sentences for activists, human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and environmentalists, according to Human Rights Watch.
Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, added insult to injury on Twitter last weekend, by taking a U.S. statement about Iran and simply crossing out “Iran” to write “America” throughout.
“We condemn the government’s same futile tactics of suppression, imprisonment of protesters, and the denial of Iranians’ Americans’ frustrations,” said the doctored statement, originally written by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Pompeo fired back in an angry tweet: “You hang homosexuals, stone women and exterminate Jews.”
Carrie Lam, the Beijing-backed leader of Hong Kong who spent months trying to crack down on anti-China protests in her city, also accused the U.S. of upholding “double standards” with its own actions.
“They value very much their own national security, but are biased in viewing ours,” Lam said at Hong Kong’s weekly executive council meeting on Tuesday.
It was Lam’s first public appearance since the U.S. revoked Hong Kong’s preferential trade rules, after Beijing pushed to seize tighter control of the city through its own national security laws. Beijing’s efforts had triggered many months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, along with fierce condemnation from the United States.
Trump decided last week that Hong Kong was no longer sufficiently independent from mainland China, after urging Chinese President Xi Jinping to listen to protesters in hopes of finding a “happy and enlightened ending” last year.
“In the U.S., we see how the riots were being handled by the local governments, compared to the stance they adopted when almost the same riots happened in Hong Kong last year,” Lam said. “There are riots in the United States and we see how local governments reacted. And then in Hong Kong, when we had similar riots, we saw what position they adopted.”
Police arrested thousands of protesters during last year’s demonstrations and attempted to use facial recognition technology to identify everyone who stood up against the local government. More recently, China has moved to impose its own set of laws on the semi-autonomous city, which would allow people to be tried on the mainland for offences that don’t exist in Hong Kong, such as criticizing the government or protesting in public, Human Rights Watch says.
In China, the state-controlled Global Times newspaper suggested that the U.S. should think twice before making comments about protests in Hong Kong, because “their words might backfire.”
Zhao Lijian, the spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, also called out the U.S. at a news conference in Beijing. He said the protests “once again reflect the racial discrimination in the U.S., the serious problems of police violent enforcement and the urgency of solving these problems.”
Zhao, whose government has put more than 1 million Muslim-minority Uighur people in detention camps, urged the U.S. to “safeguard and guarantee the legal rights of ethnic minorities.”
Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela’s foreign minister, accused Trump on Twitter of using a “philosophy of violence” in response to the protests. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has used the military and police in his country to crush dissent against his government, even as the nation’s economy has collapsed.
Russia, which meddled in the 2016 U.S. election in part by exploiting movements like Black Lives Matter, also condemned the latest violence.
“The United States has certainly accumulated systemic human rights problems: race, ethnic and religious discrimination, police brutality, bias of justice, crowded prisons … to name a few,” Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
North Korea‘s state-run newspaper “harshly condemned” the death of George Floyd, describing it as a “lawless and brutal murder” by a white policeman against a Black citizen.
In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paused for 21 seconds before offering his own comments on the use of force against protesters.
“We all watch in horror and consternation what’s going on in the United States,” Trudeau said on Tuesday, after a very long pause.
“It is a time to pull people together. But it is a time to listen. It is a time to learn what injustices continue, despite progress over years and decades.”
— With files from Reuters and The Associated Press