As COVID-19 began to spread globally, the ICNL Alliance was among the first to highlight that it was not just a public health crisis, but also a crisis for civic space. In just over two weeks after the WHO officially declared a pandemic, ICNL and ECNL launched the COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker. The Tracker currently covers 164 countries and more than 400 measures – emergency declarations, laws, and practices that affect the freedoms of association, assembly, and expression.
While quick actions are necessary, some governments have been using the pandemic to justify undue civic space restrictions. As the Tracker shows, emergency laws in Zimbabwe punish sharing vaguely defined “fake news” about the pandemic with up to 20 years in prison. Algeria, Eritrea, and Mexico have indefinitely banned protests and public gatherings. In Brazil, data regarding cases and deaths has been removed from government websites, preventing people from making informed decisions and evaluating personal risks.