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Report finds pandemic erodes 80 democracies

Democracy and human rights deteriorated in 80 nations since the coronavirus pandemic began early this year, Freedom House reported.

Democracy and human rights deteriorated in 40% of the world's nations from rising authoritarianism and inequalities in health systems during the coronavirus pandemic, Freedom House reported on Friday.

"Governments have responded by engaging in abuses of power, silencing their critics, and weakening or shuttering important institutions, often undermining the very systems of accountability needed to protect public health," the international organization, U.S.-based Freedom House, said in its latest report, "Democracy under Lockdown," warning of a continued decline in global democracy.

The report finds the robustness of 80 democracies around the world has weakened since the COVID-19 outbreak, which the World Health Organization officially declared a pandemic on March 11. Freedom House said its findings are based on a survey of 398 journalists, civil society workers, activists and other experts, along with its continuing research and analysis from among 192 countries.

In response, the organization called on governments, civil society organizations and donors to ensure that emergency measures are "accountable, proportionate and time-restricted." It recommended providing access to fact-based information, technical support and training for online work.

It also urged nations to fight corruption while calling out human rights abusers, allow independent news media organizations to operate without restrictions, and support free and fair elections that respect public health.

Protests and restrictions

In March, Freedom House warned of a continuing decline in global democracy in its 14th annual health checkup that blamed a “leaderless struggle” undercut both by autocratic regimes and populist nationalism.

It notably blamed lagging democratic leadership from U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-first politics.

But the nongovernmental organization, founded in 1941 by prominent Americans such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Wendell Wilkie and Ralph Bunche, said in its latest report that at least 90 nations have witnessed significant political protests as the coronavirus spread.

Many of the protesters' grievances are not new but have been exacerbated by their nations' virus-fighting restrictions and lockdowns. As many as 158 nations also imposed new laws to crack down on the rights of protesters, the report found.

Some of those laws involved emergency powers used to put down political opponents. At least 91 governments cracked down on news media; 66 governments had "a proliferation of disinformation." At least nine governments kept power by disrupting their elections.

Nearly two-thirds of 398 experts surveyed said they believed the pandemic's negative impacts will linger up to five years, even after medical treatments and a vaccine are found.

“What began as a worldwide health crisis has become part of the global crisis for democracy,” Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, said in a statement. “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.”