Governments Using Pandemic to Stifle Dissent, Freedom House Says

Governments Using Pandemic to Stifle Dissent, Freedom House Says

Many governments are using the Covid-19 pandemic as cover to silence dissent, free press and disrupt elections, resulting in an erosion of democracy and human rights, according to a new report by U.S.-based Freedom House.

Since the outbreak began earlier this year, the situation has worsened in 80 countries, with a “particularly acute” decline in struggling democracies and highly repressive states, the report showed. At least 91 of the 192 nations cited in the report, or 47%, have “experienced restrictions on the news media as part of the response to the coronavirus outbreak,” it said.

“What began as a worldwide health crisis has become part of the global crisis for democracy,” said Michael Abramowitz, president of the non-profit organization. “Governments in every part of the world have abused their powers in the name of public health, seizing the opportunity to undermine democracy and human rights.”

The “Democracy under Lockdown” report said that despite 158 countries putting new restrictions on protests, a significant demonstration had taken place in at least 90 countries since the outbreak began.

In a survey of experts, 62% of respondents said they distrust what they are hearing about the pandemic from their national government, Freedom House said.

“Democratically elected leaders alike have failed to be candid about the impact of the coronavirus,” according to the organization.

In Hong Kong, riot police on Thursday swept up scores of would-be protesters on the anniversary of communist rule in China. A sweeping national security law as well as coronavirus restrictions have effectively banned mass public gatherings that activists in the city have long used to push demands for greater democracy.

As recently as Sept. 6, thousands of Hong Kong residents defied warnings with a demonstration against the government’s decision to postpone elections by a year over the pandemic. Hundreds were arrested.

Although Covid-19 was the official justification, “the June imposition of a draconian national security law, and the August banning of 12 pro-democracy candidates from running next year are among the many signs that have led experts to accuse the Chinese Communist Party of using the delay to complete its suffocation of Hong Kong’s freedom and autonomy,” Freedom House said in the report.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.