Coronavirus: Impacts on freedom of expression

Listen to our Podcast on Freedom of expression during the pandemic

Free expression and coronavirus

The global coronavirus pandemic has had a life-changing impact on people around the world. Since the virus was first discovered in December 2019, it has infected millions of people around the globe.

In times of crisis where there is a threat to public health on this scale, governments are allowed, and often required, to take more restrictive measures than they would in normal times. However, many governments seemed to use the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity to further entrench repressive measures, and far overreach the limits in place under international human rights laws on their powers during such times. Today, increased surveillance, restrictions on free expression and information, and limits on public participation are becoming increasingly common.

During the pandemic, ARTICLE 19 challenged threats to freedom of expression around the world. We continue to monitor and report on government overreach, and to urge governments and other actors to ensure human rights, including the right to free expression, are fully protected as parts of efforts to combat the virus.

In depth

Closing the COVID-19 response transparency gap

11.05.20205 min read

Across the world, governments have been scrambling to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. As health care systems struggle to treat all patients and governments spend billions buying equipment, supporting workers and keeping businesses afloat, a significant casualty has been the public’s right to know. There has been a failure across the globe to ensure that […]

a man pinning up a cornavirus information poster fact sheet on a door in Africa

US: Should Twitter disinfect Trump?

24.04.20207 min read

Today, Twitter, Facebook, Google and YouTube have a difficult decision to make: should they remove footage by President Donald Trump that suggests disinfectant could be a treatment for coronavirus? In his daily press briefing on 23 April, Trump said: “I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is […]

Coronavirus: ARTICLE 19 briefing on tackling misinformation

06.03.20205 min read

ARTICLE 19 has published a briefing on how states, the media and social media companies can help to combat COVID-19 (coronavirus) by committing to transparency, tackling misinformation and promoting authoritative health advice. They also have a role to play in addressing hate speech directed at individuals of Chinese or Asian descent, connected to the coronavirus outbreak. Acting […]

a cartoon image of people wearing face masks to protect them from coronoavirus

What actions can states take under international human rights laws?

International human rights standards allow states to restrict free expression and some other rights in order to protect public health during a time of public emergency, only in very limited circumstances. Any restrictions must meet the following conditions:

  • Legality – the restriction must have a clear legal basis.
  • Necessity and proportionality – the restriction must be necessary to protect public health, and proportionate to this aim.
  • Arbitrariness and non-discrimination – any measures must not be applied in an arbitrary manner, nor discriminate against specific groups.
  • Subject to regular review – measures should be regularly reviewed by governments to check that they remain necessary.
  • Time limited – emergency restrictions must not become permanent or normalised once the threat has passed.