Amnesty International said on Tuesday that repressive regimes around the world have used the coronavirus pandemic to crack down on critics.
The rights monitor said there have been “unprecedented” restrictions on freedom of expression since last year, and that the lack of proper information could cost lives.
“Communication channels have been targeted, social media has been censored and media outlets have been shut down,” said Rajat Khosla, Amnesty’s senior director of research advocacy and policy.
“In the midst of a pandemic, journalists and health professionals have been silenced and jailed.
“As a result, people have been unable to access information about Covid-19, including how to protect themselves and their communities.
“About five million people have lost their lives to Covid-19, and a lack of information may have been a contributing factor.”
Amnesty said as of February 2020 in China, where the virus first emerged a few months ago, 5,511 criminal investigations had been opened into individuals for “fabricated and intentionally disseminating false and harmful information” about the nature and extent of the outbreak.
Tanzania’s government under former President John Magufuli used laws prohibiting and criminalizing “false news” and other measures to restrict media coverage.
Magufuli, who had been away from facemasks, died suddenly in March this year, but he had denied that the virus was spreading in the country, saying it was taken out of prayer.
Amnesty said Nicaraguan officials used the emergency law against cybercrimes to punish anyone who criticized the government’s response to the virus.
President Daniel Ortega’s government has dismissed claims of a shortage of hospital beds and a rising number of cases and deaths.
Amnesty warned that in Russia, “fake news” laws regarding COVID-19 and the introduction of criminal penalties were likely to apply.
The London-based group said such measures were part of a worldwide “attack on human rights” in recent years, and called for their immediate removal.
It also hit out at the role of social media platforms for not doing enough to stop the spread of false and misleading information about the virus.
This made it difficult for “individuals to have a fully informed opinion and make educated choices about their health”, the group said in a new report, “Silence and Misinformation: Freedom of Expression at Danger during Covid-19”. .
“States and social media companies should also ensure that the public has access to accurate, evidence-based and timely information,” Khosla said.
“This is an important step in reducing vaccine hesitation driven by misinformation.”
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)