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Democracies Suffering Under COVID-19 Pandemic, Report Finds

FILE - A demonstrator is frisked by a military police officer after a protest against the policies of President Jair Bolsonaro's government, at the Ministries Esplanade, in Brasilia, Brazil, June 21, 2020.

The world’s democracies are suffering under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new Freedom House report.

The report, titled Democracy Under Lockdown, says “the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened a crisis for democracy around the world, providing cover for governments to disrupt elections, silence critics and the press, and undermine the accountability needed to protect human rights, as well as public health.”

A possible bright spot, the report says, is “the persistence of public protests, under every type of regime."

Freedom House President Michael J. Abramowitz said, “Governments in every part of the world have abused their powers in the name of public health, seizing the opportunity to undermine democracy and human rights.”

The report contains a section about the U.S. presidential election, noting that many experts have expressed concern about whether election authorities around the country are fully prepared for the polls, given the surge in voting by mail and the controversy over last-minute changes in election rules.

It came out before U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for coronavirus late Thursday.

The report identifies four problems that have emerged to threaten democracies during the pandemic: government transparency and information on the coronavirus; corruption, lack of protection for vulnerable populations, and government abuses of power.

Abuses also have extended into elections, with authorities delaying or disrupting national elections in at least nine countries.

“The erosion of political rights and civil liberties began long before the pandemic,” said Amy Slipowitz, research manager at Freedom House, who co-authored the report, “but people in every region of the world are clearly committed to reclaiming their freedom.”