How authorities in MENA are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to silence critical voices

Protesters condemn the sentence handed down to activist blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah, in Cairo, Egypt, 11 June 2014, NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images

Prisoners released… and not

Last month, thousands of Egyptian prisoners were released in a presidential pardon that notably failed to include prisoners of conscience, activists, and journalists. According to rights groups in the country, many of those pardoned were violent offenders and the deliberate exclusion of dissidents “reflects the Egyptian government’s disdain of the right to free expression, and reveals a disturbing reality in which free expression is considered to be a crime constituting a greater threat to public safety than murder and other violent crimes.”

Silencing coverage and squashing dissent

As prisoners of conscience remain behind bars, authoritarian governments in the region have also sought to capitalize on the opportunity the global pandemic presents to squash dissent within their borders. Under the guise of public safety and national security, authorities have used the outbreak to bring the region’s recent protest movements to a grinding halt, and place a chokehold on media coverage and online dissent.

New and noteworthy

In Saudi Arabia, news of the Kingdom’s decision to end the horrendous practice of flogging brought great relief to imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi who has been spared 950 lashes from his sentence. However, the announcement came hand in hand with reports of imprisoned prominent activist Dr. Abdullah al-Hamid’s death after months of deteriorating health.

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IFEX

IFEX

IFEX is a global network of organisations that defend and promote the right to freedom of expression and information. Email: info@ifex.org