Human Rights Watch Review of Free Speech During COVID-19

COVID-19 Triggers Wave of Free Speech Abuse

Published: February 2021

This Human Rights Watch report documents cases of misuse of COVID-19 related emergency measures to restrict human rights and makes recommendations to governments and international organizations on how to respond to and decrease such practices.

After reviewing national governments’ responses to the pandemic globally, Human Rights Watch determined that unlawful interference with free speech is one of the most common forms of overreach. The report states, “At least 83 governments worldwide have used the COVID-19 pandemic to justify violating the exercise of free speech and peaceful assembly.” While some countries’ violations were minor interferences, violations in China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Russia, Turkey, Venezuela, and Vietnam were reported to affect hundreds or thousands of people. In some cases, detentions occurred just for criticizing government responses to COVID-19. Furthermore, several countries have justified violence against journalists, peaceful protesters, opposition activists, and lawyers as “enforcing COVID-19 restrictions.”