Covid Crackdown and the Media

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, authoritarian states have used the pandemic as a pretext to silence dissent. Some have done so under the guise of fighting ‘disinformation’; others under the cover of emergency laws. Journalists, bloggers, and ordinary citizens have been arrested for criticizing their government’s policies—or even for just telling the world about the virus. TrialWatch is committed to exposing injustice in their trials and supporting their fight for freedom.

Here are some of the trials TrialWatch has monitored or is monitoring relating to journalism and COVID-19:

'Fake News' Charges in Russia

Russian journalist Alexander Pichugin was convicted of spreading ‘fake news’ for sarcastic comments he published on social media criticizing Russia for permitting religious gatherings as a stark exception to the general rule of social distancing at a time when COVID-19 infection was prevalent.

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Politically Motivated Charges in India

Indian journalist and Washington Post Global Opinions Writer Rana Ayyub is facing an array of charges in India. In one recent case, she faces up to seven years in prison for fraud charges based on allegations of misuse of COVID relief funds.

The case was prompted by a complaint from an individual affiliated with India’s ruling party. More broadly, the mounting charges appear to be an attempt to silence her in response to her reporting, in particular on India’s handling of the COVID crisis.

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Re-posting a Poem on Facebook in Tunisia

Portrait of Emna Charki, a young Tunisian blogger prosecuted by the courts for a Facebook post considered as "inciting hatred between religions and calling for discrimination." Photo by Nicolas Fauque/Images de Tunisie/ABACAPRESS.COM

Tunisian blogger Emna Chargui was convicted of ‘advocacy of hatred between religions’ and ‘undermining a licensed religious rite’ for a poem she re-posted on Facebook entitled ‘Sura-Corona’, which discussed the importance of science guiding the response to COVID in the style of a Quranic verse.

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Forthcoming Reporting:

  • The trial of journalist Aigul Utepova in Kazakhstan, arrested shortly after posting criticism of the government’s response to COVID-19, and convicted of participating in the activities of ‘extremist organizations’ (identified as peaceful opposition movements by the European Parliament).
  • The trial of journalist Dhaval Patel in India, charged with sedition and spreading “false alarm or warning” for reporting on the handling of COVID-19 by the authorities in the state of Gujarat.
  • The trial of journalist Rozina Islam in Bangladesh, who previously reported critically on the government’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic, facing charges under the Official Secrets Act that carry the death penalty for allegedly collecting and taking photos of confidential documents from the Ministry of Health.
  • The trial of political cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore in Bangladesh, facing charges under Bangladesh’s Digital Security Act for cartoons he posted on Facebook satirizing the country’s COVID-19 response.