DemocracyWatch: Journalists gagged in the name of COVID

Some have died doing their job

16 July 2020, 7.00am
Journalist Mohammed Monir died from COVID-19 contracted in prison

COVID-19 has been a tough time for journalists, with laws restricting free speech being rolled out around the world. On Monday, the Council of Europe released a report into the importance of journalism during the pandemic and the extra hurdles that governments and police have put in its way. Much worse, yesterday it was reported that the Egyptian reporter Mohamed Monir, jailed under an emergency law, had died after contracting COVID-19 in prison. 

But if it’s been a hard time for journalists, then it’s been the worst of times for healthcare workers. Figures compiled by Amnesty International show that Russia, England, Pakistan and the Philippines have been particularly hard hit. With 540 health and social workers killed by COVID-19, England and Wales are second only to Russia for global fatalities among those caring for patients. 

Likewise, the pandemic has caused "an education emergency". 9.7 million children may never return to school. Millions of girls in poorer countries or conflict-hit regions are likely to be forced into child labour or early marriage due to the school closures and economic collapse that have come with the pandemic, according to Save the Children.

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Leap forward

French healthcare workers have won their bid for a pay rise.

Step back

Hopes for a vaccine have been knocked as new evidence shows COVID-19 antibodies decrease rapidly.


Tanzania A television station has been suspended by regulators for an ‘unpatriotic’ Instagram post.

Mozambique A journalist has been arrested while investigating police harassment under lockdown rules and fined by a judge.

South Africa A ban on alcohol has been reinforced as cases of coronavirus have surged.

Kenya School closures because of the pandemic have widened the educational gap between rich and poor.

Ethiopia The government shut down the internet as people took to the streets to protest against the killing of Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, a prominent musician and social activist. 


Europe Women are struggling to access abortions or are being denied the procedure due to the pandemic.

EU Leading pharmaceutical companies working on coronavirus vaccines have rebuffed requests to have their chiefs appear before MEPs. 

UK The UK has refused to join the EU’s bulk purchasing plan for COVID-19 vaccines. 

UK The government has handed an £800,000 COVID-19 contract to a firm run by the author of the Conservative Party manifesto without an open tendering process.

Spain A local court has refused to endorse a strict lockdown despite a resurgence of cases in the Catalan city of Lleida. 

Spain Hundreds of people have been banned from voting in Basque and Galician regional elections after testing positive for coronavirus.

Serbia At least ten journalists documenting protests in Belgrade against the government’s decision to reapply coronavirus restrictions have been attacked by demonstrators and police.

Romania Public clinics in Bucharest have stopped performing abortions despite a government order to continue, with just eleven out of 280 public hospitals carrying out procedures at the height of the pandemic.

Russia A doctor has been charged under Russia’s ‘fake news’ laws after complaining about a lack of protective equipment, while another has faced disciplinary proceedings.


US The White House has threatened to withdraw funds from schools failing to reopen amid the continued pandemic.

US More than a million international students have been hit by sudden changes to visa rules as a result of the pandemic.

Mexico Undocumented migrants have faced discrimination at public hospitals, experts said.

Panama Lockdown rules have led to trans people being targeted by police, Human Rights Watch said.

Puerto Rico Human rights groups have condemned laws which criminalise journalists if they report anything the government of the US colony deems to be ‘fake news’.

Peru The indigenous Wampis nation has accused an oil company of threatening them with exposure to the virus by continuing to send staff to their remote region during lockdown.


India Some 1.85 million abortions in India are likely to be "compromised" by the pandemic, according to research by the Ipas development foundation.

China An academic who published essays strongly criticising President Xi Jinping over the pandemic has been released after nearly a week in detention.

Bangladesh Thousands of beds for coronavirus patients have lain empty despite a rising caseload as people have been too scared to enter hospitals, officials said.

Tajikistan The upper house of Parliament has unanimously approved amendments making it illegal to disseminate “false information about the pandemic in media, internet and social networks”, with those convicted facing fines and up to fifteen days’ detention.

Kyrgyzstan The health ministry attributed excess deaths to pneumonia as the coronavirus infection rate increased

Malaysia The federal court has agreed to hear contempt of court proceedings against a news website and its editor over five comments posted by readers about courts reopening after lockdown.

Singapore In the run-up to a national election, authorities have used new ‘fake news’ laws to order that online references to some comments made by opposition figures on key issues must carry a warning about false information.

Philippines A congressional committee has voted overwhelmingly to reject broadcaster ABS-CBN’s application for the renewal of its licence.

Philippines An anti-terrorism law granting sweeping powers to president Rodrigo Duterte’s government has faced legal challenges.

Fiji There have been significant rises in sexual and domestic violence, food prices and theft from food gardens, according to a report by the Civil Society Organisations Alliance.

Papua New Guinea Travel restrictions have been stopping vulnerable people from accessing basic goods and services, the National Research Institute warned.

Middle East and North Africa

Israel Police have clashed with demonstrators outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence as they dismantled a camp protesting against corruption and his government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Egypt Nine healthcare workers were arbitrarily detained between March and June on vague and overly broad charges of “spreading false news” and “terrorism” after expressing safety concerns or criticised the government’s handling of the pandemic, Amnesty International said.

Egypt A journalist has died of COVID-19 contracted in prison after being jailed on ‘fake news’ charges.

Bahrain and Kuwait Contact tracing apps used in the two Gulf states were among the most invasive in the world and posed a threat to privacy, Amnesty International said.

Qatar A contact tracing app continued to be mandatory despite a security breach exposing the data of more than a million people.

Climate & environment 

US Authorities received more than 150 requests to waive environmental regulations from companies including ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum and Shell, which said they couldn’t comply because of the pandemic.

US More than 5,600 companies in the fossil fuel industry, including oil and gas drillers and coal mine operators, have taken at least $3 billion in COVID-19 aid.

UK Local authorities have warned that plans delayed and budgets stretched by the pandemic could make it more difficult for councils to meet their climate-change targets.

Good news

Ghana Teachers have developed low-cost e-learning systems to keep school curriculums on track during lockdown.

France The government has approved pay rises worth €8 billion for health workers, hailing their role in fighting coronavirus, after weeks of protests.

US G7 finance ministers have called for full implementation of a G20 debt freeze.

EU The European Investment Bank has asked EU governments to put up nearly €18 billion and commit €157 billion more to support the bloc’s economic recovery and climate ambitions.

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