Pandemic is excuse to attack free speech in 83 countries, report says – 11/02/2021 – Worldwide

At least 83 governments have used the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to prevent freedom of speech and assembly, human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Thursday.

Among them are Hungary – which has predicted the arrest of journalists under the so-called “coronavirus law” and closed independent vehicles -, Poland – which has interfered with public media and lobbied them. private media – and Belarus, where journalists were beaten and arrested while covering protests. against the dictatorship and more than 70 news sites were blocked.

Brazil is also cited in the report for persecuting journalists critical of President Jair Bolsonaro’s government and for restricting access to public health information.

Authorities around the world “have attacked, detained, prosecuted and in some cases killed detractors,” the HRW report says. There are also documented cases of media shutdowns and the enactment of laws criminalizing critical coverage of (the lack of) policies to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

Besides journalists, activists, health professionals, opposition political groups and other critics were also victims. “Governments need to fight Covid-19 by encouraging people to wear masks, not by imposing gags,” Gerry Simpson, deputy director of the crisis and conflict department at HRW, said in the statement.

According to the organization’s survey, in countries like China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Russia, Turkey, Venezuela and Vietnam, abuse of authority has affected thousands of people. Bangladesh, China and Egypt are examples of places where people have been detained simply for criticizing the government’s responses to the pandemic.

Physical attacks on journalists and protesters have been reported in 18 countries, and in Uganda, security forces have killed dozens of protesters, HRW reports.

Emergency laws and regulations aimed at preventing the spread of Sars-Cov-2 have served as a rationale for arbitrarily detaining and prosecuting government critics in at least 51 countries, according to the organization, and in 24 of them, legislation has been passed which paves the way for criminalization. the disclosure of information classified by the government as “dangerous to the public good”.

At least 33 governments have threatened their critics, in some cases with legal action, if they criticize the authorities’ response to the pandemic, even when no specific laws have been created to do so.

According to HRW, governments have an international obligation to provide the public with access to accurate information about threats to health and how to prevent or control them.

“Disproportionate limitations on freedom of expression can make it difficult to tackle disinformation about Covid-19, including the conspiracy theories of bogus and dangerous treatment that have spread across social media and offline,” he says. ‘organization.

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