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Threatened by the pandemic

Sweden-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance has found that, as of end-November 2020, 61 percent of countries had implemented measures to curb Covid-19 “that were concerning from a democracy and human rights perspective.”

“These violated democratic standards because they were either disproportionate, illegal, indefinite, or unnecessary in relation to the health threat,” the report said.

Measures imposed by some governments have squeezed civil liberties worldwide, with authoritarian regimes seeking to exploit the restrictions as a way to shore up their sometimes shaky control on fast-changing societies, rights groups say. Demonstrations have been outlawed, elections postponed, and activists subject to even greater repression in a health emergency the political impact of which will still be felt when the pandemic is over.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet has also warned that while many states had adopted justifiable and temporary measures, “there have also been deeply worrying cases where governments appear to be using Covid-19 as a cover for human rights violations.”

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said that emergency measures adopted to tackle the pandemic “visibly contributed to a news and information lockdown” and resulted in journalists being detained and sometimes jailed.

US NGO Freedom House said “the condition of democracy and human rights has grown worse in 80 countries” since the pandemic began.

The impact on freedoms is not confined to autocratic regimes. It is also felt in liberal democracies, albeit in less blatant forms.

With the expected economic fallout from the pandemic expected to fuel further discontent, especially in countries with less than capable leaders, rights groups are afraid it will be met by further restrictions.

In countries where leaders are vulnerable to abuse of power, freedom could be another casualty of the Covid-19 pandemic. Keeping it on life support or reviving it will depend on the determination of the affected populations and their leaders who are willing to fight to defend these rights that are now threatened by the questionable pandemic response of nations where leaders are more concerned with perpetuating themselves in power than uplifting their people.*

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