Leading world figures warn COVID-19 restrictions threaten democracy

More than 500 political, civil leaders, Nobel Laureates and pro-democracy institutions have signed the open letter

Measures introduced to stem the coronavirus pandemic pose a threat to human and political rights - also in democracies, warned over 500 signatories to an open letter published on Thursday.

“The current pandemic represents a formidable global challenge to democracy. Authoritarian leaders around the world see the Covid-19 crisis as a new political battleground in their fight to stigmatise democracy as feeble and reverse its dramatic gains of the past few decades,” the letter states.

"Even some democratically elected governments are fighting the pandemic by amassing emergency powers that restrict human rights and enhance state surveillance without regard to legal constraints, parliamentary oversight, or timeframes for the restoration of constitutional order," it adds.

"It is not a coincidence that the current pandemic began in a country where the free flow of information is stifled and where the government punished those warning about the dangers of the virus - warnings that were seen as spreading rumours harmful to the prestige of the state," world figures claim, referring to China.

The signatories included 13 Nobel laureates including 1983 peace prize laureate Lech Walesa of Poland, and Belarusian author and investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich, the 2015 literature prize laureate. Other signatories were civic and political leaders including Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, former presidents like Latvia's Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Mozambique's Joaquim Chissano, and former Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt.

"The Covid-19 crisis is an alarming wake-up call, an urgent warning that the freedoms we cherish are at risk and that we must not take them for granted," the signatories claimed.

About 70 pro-democracy institutions supported the letter. which was initiated by the US-based National Endowment for Democracy, and the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) that aids with training of election observers.

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