Global study: Israel among countries curbing democratic freedoms amid pandemic

More than six in 10 countries around the world have adopted measures during the COVID-19 pandemic that threaten democracy or human rights, a report by democracy institute International IDEA says.

The study, which examines the situation in almost all countries of the world, concludes that 61 percent of nations “implemented restrictions that were either illegal, disproportionate, indefinite or unnecessary” in at least one area of democratic freedoms.

Among countries widely considered democracies, 43 percent fell into this category, a figure that rose to 90 percent for authoritarian regimes, according to the Stockholm-based intergovernmental organization.

India, a democratic country, held the unenviable top spot, with measures of “concern” in nine of 22 areas studied — including freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of the press — ahead of Algeria and Bangladesh with eight areas of concern.

Border Police officers patrol on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem on October 21, 2020, as Israel exists a national coronavirus lockdown and begins to roll back restrictions. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

They were followed by China, Egypt, Malaysia and Cuba, which each had seven.

Russia was the top European nation with six, a score shared by Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Jordan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

IDEA examined the various measures adopted around the world to determine if they were problematic from a democracy and human rights standpoint, regardless of effectiveness from a health perspective.

Along with India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Iraq — all considered democracies, albeit some of them “fragile” — were among the top 15 countries with the worst records.

Five European Union countries were mentioned: Bulgaria with three areas of concern, Hungary (two) and Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia (one each).

Among the major Western democracies, only the United States was singled out, with two areas of concern: “freedom of association and assembly” and “predictable enforcement.”

Israel had five areas of concern and Argentina two.

On Israel, it says: “The government has met the anti-government and lockdown protests with excessive use of force and arrests. Rights groups have raised concerns over the violation of Palestinians’ basic rights during the pandemic, including the destruction of homes and healthcare infrastructure, including COVID-19 testing centers. Israel has used domestic security service to trace COVID-19 infections, raising privacy worries.”

A policeman, wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus, asks a passenger of a car to display his movement permission form, during the first day of a lockdown, in Athens, Nov. 7, 2020 (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

The study also praised several countries as role models for having combined effective health measures with a respect for democratic principles.

They were Iceland, Finland, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Taiwan, Uruguay, Cyprus, Japan, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

France, Italy, Canada, Germany, Britain and Spain were not mentioned among the top performers, but did not present any concerns either.

AFP, with Times of Israel staff

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