An independent democracy advocacy organization is warning that authoritarian regimes are using the global coronavirus outbreak to suppress freedoms of speech and restrict fundamental rights outside of the scope of public health needs.
The nonpartisan Washington-based Freedom House said in a statement Thursday that they have observed “concerning signs” of efforts to increase surveillance and downplay failing responses to contain the spread of COVID-19 that could worsen the spread of the virus.
“Even democracies are at risk of disregarding their core principles as they struggle to combat the outbreak, which could have lasting consequences after the crisis is over,” said Michael Abramowitz, the organization’s president.
While stopping short of naming countries at fault, he hinted at fears within Iran that the government is covering up the true death toll from the outbreak. At least 1,284 people have died from the virus in Iran, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker as of Thursday afternoon, including several government officials.
China is also believed to have made efforts to downplay the significance of the outbreak in its early stages, a move that U.S. lawmakers have said contributed to the scope of the massive health crisis.
The warnings come just hours after China announced it will expel 13 American journalists in response to a new visa limit imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese state-owned media in the U.S.
“Now more than ever, the world needs the benefits of democratic governance, including a free press, open and inclusive policy debates, and good-faith cooperation among elected officials at home and abroad to effectively address this global health crisis,” Mr. Abramowitz said.