Newsletter March 19, 2020
Spotlight on Freedom: Impact of Coronavirus on Basic Freedoms
Now more than ever, the world needs the benefits of democratic governance, including a free press, open and inclusive policy debates, and good-faith cooperation among elected officials at home and abroad to effectively address this global health crisis.
Freedom House experts weigh in on how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting freedom and human rights issues around the world:
The Washington Post: The Coronavirus Could Trigger a Backslide on Freedom
By Allie Funk, Research Analyst, and Isabel Linzer, Research Associate, Freedom House
Just as repressive rule can worsen health outcomes for a nation, a health crisis can worsen government repression. Freedom House experts break down how governments are able to use COVID-19 for political gain.
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.
The stakes have never been higher. Freedom House's Sarah Cook says the coronavirus threatens public health—and freedom.
“Don’t assume that what happens in China is separate from what happens in the United States and other democracies. The coronavirus is now Exhibit A. Don’t assume that what the CCP does to the Chinese people is not our problem, only theirs. This modern world is interconnected, like it or not.”
Suppressing Dissent Remains a Top Priority for China, even amidst a pandemic.
Over the past month, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has marshalled the country’s public security apparatus to track down and detain known activists and ordinary citizens who have shared information about the coronavirus outbreak, provided on-the-ground updates from the epicenter, or reflected upon the epidemic’s implications for China’s governance model.
But parts of the regime have also gone on the offensive against its political enemies more broadly, raising new questions about where party leaders’ priorities lie during a public health crisis and how far they will go to maintain their hold on power.
The latest issue of the China Media Bulletin analyzes propaganda, censorship, and surveillance during the coronavirus-era.
The early days of the Covid-19 outbreak were marked by tight censorship, especially by local authorities in Wuhan. But, since January 19, public concern about the virus has produced a flurry of investigative reporting into the unfolding crisis. For a few weeks, censors seemed to permit relatively open discussion of the virus, including on “self-media” platforms like WeChat, while professional journalists took advantage of the government’s slow response to publish reports on the early days of the outbreak and life under the dramatic lockdown of numerous cities in China. To learn more, check out the China Media Bulletin.
In response to the emergence of new threats to democracy associated with the global coronavirus pandemic, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“In recent weeks, we have observed a number of concerning signs that authoritarian regimes are using COVID-19 as a pretext to suppress independent speech, increase surveillance, and otherwise restrict fundamental rights, going beyond what is justified by public health needs,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “Some regimes have also resorted to such measures to cover up their mismanagement of the contagion, putting the public in greater danger. But even democracies are at risk of disregarding their core principles as they struggle to combat the outbreak, which could have lasting consequences after the crisis is over,” he added.
"Now more than ever, the world needs the benefits of democratic governance, including a free press, open and inclusive policy debates, and good-faith cooperation among elected officials at home and abroad to effectively address this global health crisis,” Abramowitz said. “Freedom House will remain vigilant for any politically motivated repression in the weeks and months to come, and we call on all those who support democracy to do the same.”