NEW REPORT: Democracy under Lockdown – The Impact of COVID-19 on Global Freedom

02. October 2020 | via Freedom House

The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened a crisis for democracy around the world, providing cover for governments to disrupt elections, silence critics and the press, and undermine the accountability needed to protect human rights as well as public health, according to Democracy under Lockdown, a new Freedom House report produced in partnership with the survey firm GQR.

Since the coronavirus outbreak began, the condition of democracy and human rights has worsened in 80 countries, with particularly sharp deterioration in struggling democracies and highly repressive states, according to the experts surveyed by the project. More than 60 percent of the respondents predicted that the pandemic’s impact on political rights and civil liberties in their countries of focus would be mostly negative for the next three to five years.

The country experts surveyed as part of the project identified four problems as the most acute during the COVID-19 pandemic: lack of government transparency and information on the coronavirus, corruption, lack of protection for vulnerable populations, and government abuses of power.

This report is the most in-depth effort to date to examine the condition of democracy during the pandemic. Freedom House conducted its research from January to September 2020. The work included an online survey by GQR, conducted from July 29 to August 15, 2020, in which 398 experts reported on the state of democracy in 105 countries and territories. In addition, Freedom House consulted its global network of analysts, bringing the total number of countries examined to 192.

“Our survey found that governments’ responses to the pandemic are eroding the pillars of democracy around the world,” said  Sarah Repucci, vice president for research and analysis at Freedom House and a coauthor of the report. “The blatant obfuscation of facts by governments is always harmful, but it is especially egregious at a time when so many people’s lives are at stake.”

Key findings and data points:

  • Since the coronavirus outbreak began, the condition of democracy and human rights has grown worse in 80 countries. The deterioration is particularly acute in struggling democracies and highly repressive states.
  • 64 percent of experts agreed that the impact of COVID-19 on democracy and human rights in their country of focus will be mostly negative over the next three to five years.
  • The four issues experts believe have been most impacted by COVID-19 are transparency of information on the pandemic, corruption, protection for vulnerable populations, and government abuse of power.
  • At least 91 of the 192 countries under review (47 percent) experienced restrictions on the news media as part of the response to the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Protests have been restricted, but not stopped, by the pandemic. Though 158 countries have had new restrictions placed on protests, a significant protest has taken place in at least 90 countries since the outbreak began.

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