Covid-19 Triggers Wave of Free Speech Abuse
Since January 2020, at least 83 governments have used the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to silence critics and adopt new repressive laws criminalizing speech. They have committed thousands of abuses in five key areas:
- Security forces or state officials physically assaulted journalists or bloggers reporting on Covid-19 policies, as well as protesters, opposition activists and lawyers.
- Governments have used Covid-19 and pre-Covid-19 laws and measures to arbitrarily arrest, detain, prosecute, and fine or imprison critics of government responses to the emergency, or have used them to target critics of policies unrelated to the pandemic.
- Governments have used multiple tools to censor media and social media coverage of the pandemic. These include adopting laws and other measures that criminalize spreading misinformation on public health or other topics the government deems off-limits; using new and pre-pandemic measures to threaten critics with prosecution; blocking Covid-19-related media reports; and shutting down media outlets for their Covid-19 reporting. Authorities have also investigated, threatened, and dismissed healthcare staff for speaking publicly about the authorities’ response to the pandemic.
- Governments have suspended or restricted the right to request and receive public health information or limited press accreditation for Covid-19-related press briefings to pro-state media outlets.
- Authorities have arbitrarily banned or broken up Covid-19-related protests or used social distancing measures to end other protests critical of government policies unrelated to the coronavirus.
The following maps show which countries have committed abuses in each of these five key areas.
Security forces or government officials in at least 18 countries have physically assaulted journalists or bloggers for reporting on Covid-19 policies as well as protesters, political opponents, or lawyers. In one country, security forces killed protesters.
Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, Prosecution
At least 51 governments around the world have used Covid-19-related public health measures or laws pre-dating the pandemic to arbitrarily arrest, detain, prosecute or fine people expressing opposition to authorities’ responses to the pandemic or other government policies unrelated to Covid-19.
Censorship Through Laws, Threats, and Blocking Reporting
At least 52 national governments have prevented Covid-19 related reporting by passing vague or overbroad new laws criminalizing categories of media coverage that they deem undesirable. Some have also threatened media critics to not contradict the authorities’ responses, threatened or dismissed healthcare staff for criticizing responses to the pandemic, blocked specific reports or shut down media outlets.
Restricting Access to Public Health Information
At least eight governments have suspended or restricted the right to request and receive public health information or limited press accreditation for Covid-19 related press briefings to pro-state media outlets.
Banning Protests and Other Public Assemblies
Authorities in at least ten countries have arbitrarily banned or broken up protests against various government responses to Covid-19, or have used Covid-19-related regulations to end protests and gatherings unrelated to the coronavirus by opposition groups or other critics.
The following lists of countries that have committed abuses in the five key areas accompany our report ‘Covid-19 Triggers Wave of Free Speech Abuse.’ Many countries have committed more than one abuse in each of these areas.