DemocracyWatch: People are organising against the assault on democracy across the world

Join the fightback against the coronavirus crackdown

28 May 2020, 7.00am

Around the world, people are organising. As governments and others with power use coronavirus to crack down on democracy, human rights and civil liberties, people everywhere are finding creative ways to fight back.

In the favelas of Brazil, women are putting up signs warning men against domestic violence under lockdown. In the Philippines, people are crowdsourcing bail for arrested protesters online. And in Western Sahara, activists are demanding that political prisoners be released.

Welcome to the weekly DemocracyWatch newsletter, where openDemocracy, SourceMaterial and Transparency International keep you up to date with attacks on our rights and freedoms around the world through the coronavirus crisis – and with how people are fighting back.

openDemocracy’s founder Anthony Barnett has written about the growth of the power of humans organising across the planet. You can read his essay here and join our live discussion on Thursday 28 May at 5pm UK time/6pm CET. And our weekly update is below. Please forward it to a friend or two.

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Organised crime Cocaine traffickers used flexible global distribution networks to help their business flourish as the legal economy ground to a halt.


France At least fifty healthcare workers were fined and three people arrested for breaking social distancing rules during a protest calling for pay rises and better working conditions.

UK The chair of Parliament’s science and technology committee criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson, saying there were “concerns over the transparency of the scientific advice given and its relationship to government decisions”. 

UK Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin teamed up to block online committee meetings in Belfast City Council. 

Italy The release to house arrest of 370 prisoners convicted of Mafia-related offences following a series of apparently coordinated prison riots prompted warnings that organised crime groups were exploiting the pandemic.

Albania Parliament should prevent the president from communicating political decisions on human rights and freedoms through social media instead of official channels, the Institute of Political Studies said.

Slovakia Concerns were raised about a delayed state coronavirus tracking app after the government did not make clear where data would be held and who would have access to it.

Russia New laws allowing electronic and postal voting sparked fears that the changes would allow manipulation and make it more difficult for observers to detect irregularities.

Spain Attempts to reform an already struggling judicial system could be set back even further by the pandemic and an onslaught of new virus-related lawsuits, experts warned.

Georgia A draft quarantine law that would limit rights and liberties without the declaration of a state of emergency would be unconstitutional, Transparency International said.

Azerbaijan Medical researchers in Baku said that they had been targeted in a disinformation campaign by the Russian state. 


China Hong Kong police fired tear gas and used coronavirus social distancing rules to fine protesters against a new secure law. 

China Uighur groups urged the World Health Organization to send a fact-finding mission to forced ‘re-education’ camps where lack of sanitation may be leading to unreported coronavirus outbreaks.

Indonesia A coronavirus task force worker was shot dead and another seriously wounded while delivering medical supplies, police said.

India A doctor suspended after raising concerns about a shortage of masks was beaten by police and committed to a mental hospital.

India Millions of schoolgirls faced a shortage of sanitary pads due to school closures.

Sri Lanka The Supreme Court began hearing a challenge to the president's decision not to reconvene parliament ahead of a delayed general election. Three people were killed when they were trampled during an unauthorised handout of cash by a businessman in Colombo.

Myanmar Zaw Ye Htet, editor-in-chief of the Dae Pyaw online news agency, was sentenced to two years in jail for a report on the pandemic.

Kazakhstan The president signed a new law further limiting freedom of assembly.

Kyrgyzstan Parliament began debating a law that would impose onerous reporting requirements on activists and non-governmental groups.

Middle East & North Africa

Saudi Arabia The country’s anti-corruption authority said it had initiated 117 coronavirus-related investigations during the previous month.

Syria, Iraq The pandemic had “significantly reduced” training for Iraqi and Syrian forces being trained by the US to fight Islamic State, the US military said.

Egypt Lina Attalah, editor of independent media outlet Mada Masr, was arrested while reporting on protests against a pandemic-related ban on prison visits.

United Arab Emirates Palestinian politicians rejected an aid flight carrying 14 tonnes of medical supplies from the UAE because it was coordinated through Israel.

Yemen The UN withdrew more than half of its foreign aid staffers from the capital Sana’a to protect them from the virus. Houthi rebel authorities covered up coronavirus cases and silenced people who spoke out about it, a think tank report claimed.

Lebanon Migrant workers went on strike after their wages were slashed. Bachir Abou Zeid, editor of the newspaper October 17, was attacked by supporters of the Amal party headed by the speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, activists said. A group of soldiers was filmed pushing and hitting a doctor in a hospital in Tripoli.


Tanzania “Let’s party, coronavirus has ended,” said the regional commissioner of Dar es Salaam as the government and opposition continued to dispute infection rates.

Burundi The ruling party received 69% of votes and was declared the winner of corruption-tainted presidential elections from which observers were excluded through coronavirus quarantine.

Rwanda Journalist Dieudonné Niyonsenga and media worker Fidèle Komezusenge remained in detention after being arrested for lockdown violations in mid-April.

Sudan Authorities said they would create a police force to protect healthcare workers after doctors threatened to go on strike following attacks on healthcare workers and facilities.

Uganda An opposition MP was arrested and reportedly tortured after breaking social distancing guidelines to hand out food to his constituents. 

Democractic Republic of the Congo The government reimposed income tax collection weeks after announcing a three-month suspension because of the pandemic.

Somalia There was an increase in reports of female genital mutilation as cutters went door to door during the lockdown. 


US President Donald Trump threatened to withhold federal funding to the state of Michigan if it did not rescind measures to facilitate postal voting. 

US Public officials in at least two-thirds of states shared addresses of people who tested positive for the virus with police, firefighters and paramedics despite privacy assurances. 

US Patients taking hydroxychloroquine, a Trump-endorsed malaria drug, were at higher risk of death, a study in The Lancet found. 

US Several states cancelled in-person voting in primaries ahead of the November elections. 

US More than 1,000 people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tested positive for the virus, including a 34-year-old man who died. 

Canada Five patients were forcibly detained because they refused to, or could not, self-isolate.

Brazil The murder rate increased 11% in March compared with the same period last year.  

Brazil Hundreds of Paraguayan migrants to Brazil remained trapped at the border

Chile A law to allow remote voting failed to win parliamentary approval. 

Chile Peruvian migrants stranded in Chile due to the country’s closed border began a 2,000-kilometre walk to Santiago to highlight their plight. 

Surinam A general election went ahead despite the pandemic, with the incumbent president’s party coming second to the Progressive Reform Party after he was found guilty of murder.

Climate and environment

Amazon Deforestation jumped 55% in the first four months of 2020 compared with the same period last year as people took advantage of the crisis to carry out illegal clearances.

Australia The country’s ‘failing’ environmental laws will fuel further public health crises, said a group of experts including Nobel prize-winning immunologist Peter Doherty and epidemiologist Fiona Stanley.

Germany Airline Lufthansa agreed a €9 billion bailout package with the government, with the company’s statement making no mention of sustainability criteria. 

Germany Climate change deniers joined demonstrations against coronavirus restrictions and posted false reports on social media.

Good news

Germany During Ramadan, a Berlin church opened for Muslims unable to fit into their mosque under social distancing rules.

France President Emmanuel Macron put the production of electric vehicles in France at the centre of a €8 billion aid package for the motor industry.

Scotland Companies based in tax havens were banned from receiving coronavirus bail-outs. 

India Murals in Delhi helped preserve the legacy of protests against anti-Muslim citizenship laws. 

Uzbekistan Activists used dating apps to help gay men obtain HIV tests and care. 

Brazil Black women’s groups in Rio de Janeiro mobilised to help domestic abuse victims

Humans of COVID-19

“Home birth seemed like the only option” – read personal stories from the world under pandemic.

Live discussion: COVID-19 and the human side of globalisation

Usually, profits come before people. But this year, governments across the world have been forced to shut down their economies and put life first. Why?

Join openDemocracy for a live discussion on what the coronavirus tells us about globalisation, neoliberalism and our shared experience as humanity. Thursday 28 May, 5pm UK time/6pm CET

Anthony Barnett Founder of openDemocracy, and author of ‘Out of the Belly of Hell: COVID-19 and the humanisation of globalisation’, which looks at how social movements since 1968 have reshaped the world.

Achille Mbembe Leading post-colonial philosopher who developed the idea of necropolitics: how politics can dictate who lives and who dies.

Thea Riofrancos Author of ‘A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal’ and ‘Resource Radicals: From Petro-Nationalism to Post-Extractivism in Ecuador’. She is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Providence College.

Chair: Réka Kinga Papp Hungarian journalist and editor-in-chief of Eurozine.


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