Global democracy is in crisis during the coronavirus pandemic, report finds

17:56 - Source: CNN
The authoritarian threats of coronavirus
CNN  — 

Democracy is in crisis worldwide as governments take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to tighten controls and conduct human rights abuses, according to a new report by research institute Freedom House.

The report, released Thursday, identified 80 countries where freedoms have deteriorated, many of them nations with repressive or authoritarian governments like China and Cambodia, the report said.

“What began as a worldwide health crisis has become part of the global crisis for democracy,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, which is funded by the US government. “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.”

Between January and September, Freedom House and the survey firm GQR surveyed nearly 400 journalists, activists, civil servants and experts in 105 countries and territories. Freedom House also consulted international analysts, bringing the total number of countries covered in the report to 192.

The experts identified five major pillars of democracy that are now under threat: government transparency, freedom of press and speech, credible elections, checks against abuse of power, and protections for vulnerable groups.

“The new COVID-era laws and practices will be hard to reverse,” said Sarah Repucci, one of the report’s co-authors. “The harm to fundamental human rights will last long beyond the pandemic.”

The five pillars under threat

Numerous world leaders have failed to be candid and transparent about the impact of the coronavirus, said the report – prompting public distrust in the authorities and allowing misinformation to spread.

In the survey, 62% of respondents said they distrusted virus-related information from their national government. The issue of transparency can range from politicians like US President Donald Trump making unfounded or misleading statements, to companies and ministers engaging in active corruption, said the report.

Trump and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday. Their diagnoses came just hours after Trump’s top aide Hope Hicks tested positive for the virus.

Freedom of press is under threat as well – at least 91% of the countries examined have seen increased restrictions on the news media during the pandemic, according to the report. Journalists covering the crisis have been arrested, harassed, and stripped of press credentials; news outlets have been shut down and censored online.