How the Coronavirus Could Trigger a Backslide on Freedom Around the WorldRoundup
tags: democracy, civil liberties, censorship, authoritarianism
Allie Funk is a research analyst and Isabel Linzer a research associate at Freedom House.
Last Tuesday, Moscow banned gatherings with more than 5,000 attendees until April 10, arguing that the move was necessary to limit the spread of covid-19. While such restrictions may be essential during a public health emergency, the announcement came on the same day President Vladimir Putin endorsed a proposal allowing him to remain in office until 2036. In Russia’s largest city — where the opposition has previously mobilized tens of thousands of people despite government efforts to suppress them and where there were just 20 confirmed cases across the country at that point — the decision to restrict free assembly is worthy of scrutiny.
Russia is not alone. Authorities worldwide are using the coronavirus as a pretext to crack down on human rights for political purposes. Though some limitations are undoubtedly necessary to address a pandemic, there is a real risk that this crisis could trigger a lasting global backslide in fundamental freedoms — and it’s already started.
For example, while a pandemic creates an ideal situation for disinformation, many governments are using this threat to justify heavy censorship, smothering independent sources of information along with any legitimately harmful content. Iran, a leading Internet freedom violator, has become the epicenter of the Middle East’s coronavirus outbreak. During the government’s scramble to respond, Internet connectivity dipped and Wikipedia’s Farsi edition was temporarily blocked, according to civil society group Netblocks — just as similar blunt restrictions were imposed amid nationwide protests in November.
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