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The COVID-19 Effect

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 cover of emergency laws. Journalists, bloggers, artists, doctors, 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 monitoring and exposing injustice in their trials.

For instance, TrialWatch is monitoring or has monitored:

  • The trial of artist Danai Ussama in Thailand, charged with dissemination of “false” information for Facebook posts stating that neither he nor other passengers were given appropriate health screening at Bangkok airport upon their return from Barcelona.
  • The trial of journalist Wan Noor Hayati Wan Alias in Malaysia, charged with disseminating false information that “could disrupt national stability and public order” for Facebook posts questioning the government’s decision to allow tourists on a cruise ship coming from Wuhan to disembark at Penang.
  • The trial of a journalist in Africa charged with offenses including “spreading fake news” relating to their reporting on the government’s response to COVID-19.
  • The trial of journalist Kufre Carter in Nigeria, charged with criminal defamation and conspiracy for an article that described a conversation between two unnamed health professionals in which they criticized the local health commissioner’s response to the COVID crisis.
  • The trial of blogger Emna Chargui in Tunisia, who was convicted of “inciting hatred between religions through hostile means or violence” and “infringing an authorized religion” 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.

And we continue to track other arrests.

TrialWatch is also monitoring the fairness of trials that are taking place without juries and with limited public participation in the COVID-19 era.  For instance, TrialWatch monitored the trial in Kazakhstan of activist Alnur Ilyashev who was recently convicted of “spreading false information during an emergency” for social media posts critical of the authorities, including their response to COVID-19. His trial was conducted by video conference due to the pandemic but the manner in which these remote proceedings were organized violated his rights—including because participants were barely audible on numerous occasions and defense counsel was unable to consult their client.

We have also exposed violations of defendants’ rights that have implications for their health, for instance:

  • In Russia, Crimean Tatar human rights defenders raised concerns that they might have contracted COVID-19 and claimed they had been deprived of adequate medical treatment in detention. After the court used deficient procedures to assess these concerns, CFJ issued a statement calling on Russia to provide the defendants adequate medical care and respect their procedural rights.
  • In Cameroon, journalist Paul Chouta has been in arbitrary detention for over a year, in an over-crowded prison where cases of COVID-19 have been reported. TrialWatch, in partnership with the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights, released a report outlining the violations to which he has been subject.

TrialWatch will continue to focus attention and resources on such cases for the duration of the pandemic.