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World Leaders Warn That Pandemic ‘Emergency Powers’ Could Undermine Freedom

The Coronavirus pandemic has created a resurgence in authoritarian policies threatening liberal democracies, a letter by former world leaders and Nobel Prize laureates has warned.

The letter, cosigned by hundreds of leading figures and organizations from across the globe, is a response to what they see as the trampling of Democratic rights and the increase of authoritarianism in countries that claim to be staunch defenders of freedom. It comes at an important time during the pandemic, as cases continue to rise and citizens become more discontent with social restrictions and economic slowdowns.

“Silencing free speech, jailing peaceful dissenters, suppressing legislative oversight, and indefinitely canceling elections all do nothing to protect public health,” the letter argued.

Democracies including the U.S. have been accused of taking advantage of the situation to bring forward new public safety measures. From state-wide mask requirements to the forced closure of churches and gun shops, many states have sidestepped legal precedents in favor of promised safety from the virus.

“In contrast to the self-serving claims of authoritarian propaganda, credible and free flows of information, fact-based debate about policy options, the voluntary self-organization of civil society, and open engagement between government and society are all vital assets in combating the pandemic,” the letter proclaimed.

The 2020 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index reported a “clear correlation” between a country’s media response to the Coronavirus and their press freedom score, with European countries such as Hungary moving down the list due to new legislation threatening up to 5 years in prison for “false information” about the pandemic.

The letter also targeted China, claiming “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 rumors harmful to the prestige of the state.”

China has been highlighted on multiple occasions for suppressing information on social media related to the Coronavirus, as well as threatening doctors who were among the first to report on the outbreak. The WHO has been further been accused of withholding information, with director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stating there was “no evidence of human-to-human transmission outside China” at a January news conference in Geneva.

The letter also warned of misinformation made by governments throughout the pandemic, and asserted: “it is only in democracies that government data on the scope and health-impact of the pandemic can be believed.”

“Democracy is under threat, and people who care about it must summon the will, the discipline, and the solidarity to defend it. At stake are the freedom, health, and dignity of people everywhere,” the letter concluded.

The letter had no shortage of famous names in American politics, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. The George W. Bush Institute, The Carter Center, and The Mccain Institute for International Leadership were among the American organizations that cosigned the letter.

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