Aug 4, 2020

Street protests were the defining feature of civil and political resistance in 2019. In every region of the world, people living under authoritarian regimes took to the streets to demand respect for their fundamental rights.

Just as 2019 came to a close, the novel coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China. The virus has since spread all across the globe, killing hundreds of thousands of people.

Instead of focusing on the enormous public health risk and its implications, authoritarian regimes have used the pandemic primarily as an excuse to tighten their grip on power and crackdown on dissent.

So what impact has the coronavirus had on protest movements? As individuals weigh their own risks from within lockdown, how can we keep these protest movements alive in the era of COVID-19?

Follow along as we revisit our assessment of global protest movements, country by country, to see where these popular movements stand today in Sudan, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Nicaragua, Algeria, and Hong Kong.

 

Sudan

The hard-fought path toward a democratic future in Sudan has featured sporadic and brutally-suppressed protests over the past decade.

Following the end of Omar al-Bashir’s authoritarian rule over the country in 2019, the transition to democracy has not been easy. Much of the current civil discontent in Sudan owes to the lack of progress on key reforms and the demand for justice for the atrocities perpetrated during and after the removal of al-Bashir.

In his aftermath, an 11-member sovereign council assumed power in August 2019 to replace the Transitional Military Council, chaired by senior military official Abdel Fattah al-Burhan for 21 months and then led by an elected civilian for 18 months.

Sudan’s main opposition alliance also nominated Abdalla Hamdok to serve as prime minister in August 2019. The transitional government set up under this 39-month plan is meant to facilitate peace and transition to a democratic state, in time for the 2022 election.

In February, Sudanese security forces tear gassed protesters in Khartoum, following a statement by the Sudanese armed forces that listed the names of officers and soldiers who would be dismissed for previously supporting the coup that led to the removal of al-Bashir in 2019.

Protestors criticized their wrongful discharge by the transitional government. The demonstration was organized by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), a coalition of independent trade unions and prominent leader in the grassroots revolutionary movement against al-Bashir.

A report by Amnesty International from March 2020 confirmed that both the National Intelligence Security Service and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have led unlawful assaults on protesters since December 2018.

The evidence of these specific killings led civil society groups to call upon the sovereign council to facilitate an effective, independent, and comprehensive investigation into the crackdown. The investigation’s findings have yet to be published.

Additionally, more than a year since its emergence, Sudan’s transitional government has yet to bring justice to the families of the 120 people killed in a bloody crackdown on protesters on June 3, 2019. In addition to the killings of protestors, residents cited at least 64 women who were raped by Sudanese security forces and members of the RSF, and who are still seeking justice.

The national committee that was appointed in September to investigate this violence has also not yet issued its final report, but Mohamed Hamdan Dago, the commander of the RSF who also currently serves as the deputy of the sovereign council, has been implicated in possible crimes against humanity in the aftermath of the attack on protesters.

On July 21, Omar al-Bashir’s trial started in Khartoum; the ousted dictator faces a potential maximum sentence of death in connection with his role in the military coup that brought him to power in 1989. He has already been convicted of corruption, and he was jailed last year after protests brought his repressive three-decade rule to an end and is currently serving a two-year sentence.

Despite the work that still needs to be done in ensuring justice and accountability for human rights abuses, the transitional government made some notable strides since last year in overturning al-Bashir-era laws that restricted women’s rights and disbanded unions.

In July, Sudan officially ratified amendments to criminalize female genital mutilation (FGM) followed by the approval of a landmark draft law. According to a 2014 UN report, around 87% of Sudanese women have been subjected to FGM. Under the new law, anyone found guilty of performing the procedure could face up to three years in prison. This represents a major victory for women’s rights in Sudan – even if it’s only the first step towards to completely eradicating FGM.

Women assumed a prominent role in the 2019 protests, accounting for 70% of protesters in 2019, and they continue to be at the forefront. In Sudan’s current government, female ministers lead five government ministries under Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

Despite their presence in government affairs, women’s rights activists note that the representation of women within higher decision-making bodies is below 22%. Sudan has not yet ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Disccrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which sets an agenda on a national scale to end discrimination.

The COVID-19 pandemic has played a prominent part within the context of Sudanese protests over the past few months. With approximately 11,780 cases in the midst of a political crisis, Sudanese authorities imposed border closures, restrictions on gatherings, and a national curfew, among other measures.

Despite grassroots efforts to spread awareness on the severity of the pandemic, guidelines have not been adhered to either the government or civilians.  The first anti-government protest in Khartoum this year, sparked by rising bread prices, took place on April 10 despite the prohibition on public gatherings.

This is a testament to the effect COVID-19 could have in exacerbating instability in the area. The urban poor bear the brunt of the effects: with inflation near 100% and high levels of food insecurity, many people in Sudan cannot go a day without work to survive. Imposing more restrictions could elevate prices of fuel and wheat, which will lead to increased discontent.

Online activism and criticism of the government have proliferated during the pandemic. Under the Bashir regime, digital activism was limited by a complete internet crackdown; the government cited social media as a catalyst for revolution. Under the new sovereign council, internet inaccessibility has continued to be a problem.

Over the past several months, independent media in Sudan has also been affected by COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. Sales of newspapers have plummeted, and new content is almost exclusively online.

Given that the internet in Sudan only reaches 26 percent of the population, a large majority of Sudanese are left without critical channels of information. In early May, the sovereign council shut down the internet in eastern Sudan following an outbreak of ethnic clashes, resembling the  previously-ousted regime’s notorious media suppression tactics.

Civil disobedience and dissent are not impossible during a pandemic, but they must adapt to the circumstances. Sudanese activists and protesters have successfully done so, and kept on prioritizing their cause despite the global health crisis.

 

Venezuela

In Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro’s regime is weaponizing the coronavirus pandemic to strengthen its hold on power. Opposition leader Miguel Pizarro referred to the combination of Maduro’s consolidation of power and the pandemic as a “crisis within a crisis.”

As of August 4, Venezuela has 20,754 cases of COVID-19 and 180 deaths, though the real number is likely to be far higher given the lack of reliable testing, suppression of information, and the persecution of those questioning the government’s narrative, for which more than a dozen healthcare workers and journalists have been detained since March 13.

In May, Venezuela’s Academy of Physical, Mathematical and Natural Sciences published a report disputing the official case count. In response, Venezuelan authorities called for an investigation into the Academy’s work.

After Colombia began to implement quarantine measures in response to the pandemic, at least 71,000 Venezuelans who had immigrated to the neighboring country have tried to return. However, Maduro’s government is not letting them in, claiming that 8 out of every 10 cases of COVID-19 in the country come from Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

As of June 10, only 300 people were being allowed in per day, three times a week. Other Venezuelans have returned via illegal border crossings to avoid the required bribes and appalling conditions of mandatory quarantine at legal crossings.

The healthcare system in Venezuela was already in shambles long before the public health crisis hit the country. Most hospitals already lack running water, electricity, and soap, rendering the system utterly unprepared to fight a large-scale pandemic.

The few available resources are invested in Caracas, the capital, meaning that rural Venezuelans are being deprived of basic government services, including healthcare.

Nearly 80% of Venezuelans do not have access to drinking water and basic sanitation, which makes the frequent washing of hands impossible and puts the lives of many Venezuelans at a higher risk.

This lack of basic services had already spurred over a thousand protests throughout the country in May alone. These protests occur despite the quarantine orders in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and at times have resulted in violence; for example, in April, 21-year-old university student  Rafael Hernández was killed in a drive-by shooting while protesting in El Campito, and in May 29-year-old Charlis Antonio Nuñez was shot in the head in Upata.

Back in January 2019, Juan Guaidó — the leader of the democratically-elected, opposition-controlled National Assembly — had declared Maduro’s presidency illegitimate due to his fraudulent victory in the 2018 elections, and assumed presidential powers until elections were held.

Up until January 2020, the National Assembly remained the only branch of government Maduro did not control. In a move that Guaidó called a “parliamentary coup d’état,” on June 5, security forces blocked opposition lawmakers’ way into the National Assembly building that prevented Guaidó’s re-election as the body’s head.

On the same day, Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela swore in Luis Parra as head of the Assembly without a vote count. Guaidó continues to be recognized by over 65 countries as the legitimate president of Venezuela.

On June 12, Maduro’s Supreme Court swore in a new electoral authority to oversee the polls, which will once again serve as a dependable rubber stamp for his regime in the upcoming elections.

On June 16 and June 17 consecutively, the Court suspended the leadership of the Democratic Action and Justice First parties, appointing them ad-hoc boards—thus shrinking political pluralism in the country to a minimum.

The move came after 11 opposition parties announced their boycott of the parliamentary elections that are expected later this year, citing a biased electoral process in favor of the Maduro government.

Protests in Venezuela peaked in 2016 with more than a million protesters, and then again in early 2019 when Guaidó announced plans to oust Maduro. In March, Guaidó renewed his calls for Venezuelans to take to the streets in the capital. Police responded to the modest crowds with tear gas, and raided a hotel where the opposition was staying, briefly detaining opposition members and confiscating their cell phones.

One congressman, Renzo Pietro, was arrested by masked members of FAES — a notorious elite police unit responsible for torture and extrajudicial killings — and is still in custody, making him one of 449 political prisoners known to be held in Venezuela.

However, the recent nationwide lockdown imposed in March — extended into August — has otherwise paused the mass anti-government marches that had caught sporadic momentum throughout 2019.

 

Zimbabwe

The coronavirus pandemic found Zimbabwe already reeling from multiple crises, including a deepening economic crisis, and the threat of famine.

This challenge arrives during an ongoing economic crisis in the country. Throughout 2019, there were a series of anti-regime protests against food and fuel shortages, government repression, deteriorating living conditions, and dire working conditions for public health workers.

The regime responded with mass arrests and tear gas, while dozens of government critics were abducted and beaten by suspected state-security agents. The unfolding public health crisis, added to the events of the past year, has fueled more discontent with the regime throughout the first half of 2020.

In January, opposition leader Nelson Chamisa vowed to make 2020 “a year of demonstrations and action” to push for democratic change. Since the establishment of Zimbabwe in 1980, the country has been ruled by the ZANU-PF party, first under the late dictator Robert Mugabe, who stayed in power from 1980 until his ouster in 2017, and then under his deputy, the current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was the architect of brutal crackdowns on the opposition during Mugabe’s reign.

While at times political factions within ZANU-PF have jockeyed for power, there has not been meaningful democratic progress. In January and February, the capital Harare saw brief and modest protests by students and opposition members. However, after the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in March, the opposition suspended all planned activities of civil disobedience and mass anti-government protests.

Civil society in Zimbabwe has performed an important function during the pandemic, as the state has failed to act effectively to protect its citizens. Since the onset of the pandemic, civil society activists have reacted to the crisis by setting up crowdfunding pages to support vulnerable communities and secure medical equipment and COVID-19 tests.

Evan Mawarire — pastor and founder of the #ThisFlag movement— and other pro-democracy activists are using digital tools and social media to launch information campaigns to help educate citizens how to protect themselves against the virus, as well as organize with one another to pressure the government into responding to the crisis.

The regime’s response to the pandemic was slow and inadequate. The regime announced a 21-day national lockdown only after pleas from medical professionals for government action, strikes by public sector workers over shortages of personal protective equipment, and the death of Zororo Makamba, a well-known TV presenter and the nation’s first coronavirus fatality.

Makamba had returned from New York with flu-like symptoms, but was not tested until his condition deteriorated; even after his test came back positive, he was refused admittance into Wilkins Hospital in Harare — designated as the main treatment facility for COVID-19 patients — as the hospital stated that it was not ready for him. He was eventually admitted into the hospital’s isolation ward, but died just three days after his test; the hospital lacked basic equipment such as ventilators, oxygen, or medicine to treat the coronavirus.

By the first week of the lockdown, police had arrested more than 2,100 people and committed widespread abuses against citizens and journalists. At least one man, Bulawayo resident Levison Ncube, died after being beaten by police in April; he was walking to the supermarket with his girlfriend to purchase basic goods when they were stopped for “violating COVID-19 lockdown rules” and assaulted. In addition, the regime introduced a law that penalizes the publication of fake news during the national lockdown with a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

In the context of the pandemic and lockdown, the regime has targeted opposition activists and protesters who criticized the state’s handling of the public health crisis. On May 13, three activists — Cecilia Chimbiri, Netsai Marova, and member of parliament Joana Mamombe — were arrested for leading a demonstration in support of economic relief for those affected by the lockdown.

After their arrests, they disappeared for two days, part of an alarming trend in the country of abductions of government critics in violation of due process rights. During this period, the three women said they were tortured and sexually assaulted by state security agents. They were found dumped in a marketplace on May 15, all with serious injuries.

The three activists were immediately hospitalized; state prosecutors visited them in the hospital a few days later to charge them with gathering with “intent to promote public violence” and “breach of peace” in relation to the protest. In June, they were charged with fabricating their account of abduction and assault, and denied bail. They could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted, while photos of their injuries spread on social media and organizations like Amnesty International and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have condemned the conduct of the regime.

On July 20, prominent investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, known for exposing a public health corruption scandal that cost Health Minister Obadiah Moyo his job, was arrested after posting on social media in support of activist Jacob Ngarivhume’s call for protests against corruption. Both Chin’ono and Ngarivhume were charged with “incitement to violence,” and Chin’ono’s cameras and computers were seized without a search warrant.

Similarly to Chimbiri, Marova, and Mamombe, Chin’ono and Ngarivhume were denied bail and remain in custody, despite calls from international watchdogs for their immediate release. The regime has also imposed a nighttime curfew, which critics claim is meant to curb protesters more than the spread of the virus.

In June, there were renewed strikes by hospital workers after the regime slashed the salaries of civil servants without notice. The regime, fearing protests, deployed armed soldiers and police in the cities of Harare, Bulawayo, and Kwekwe, to shut down the city centers and force residents to stay home.

 

Nicaragua

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Nicaragua particularly hard, exacerbating economic problems and allowing the government to increase repression while failing to take adequate measures to protect its citizens.

From the onset of the pandemic, the Nicaraguan government refused to take action and went as far as openly downplaying the seriousness of the outbreak and organizing massive public rallies, even after many countries in the region had already closed their borders and ordered lockdowns to contain the virus.

Unsurprisingly, healthcare workers and professional associations began reporting that the number of infections had brought an ill-prepared health system to its knees as early as May, contrasting wildly with the official government statistics showing only 16 cases at the time.

As the government continued to ignore the crisis, civil society organizations raised the alarm that the true number of infections in the country was being systematically concealed. Hospital staff and the families of patients across the country report being harassed by paramilitaries and police as their deceased loved ones are taken away against their consent in the middle of the night for “express burials.”

Doctors and nurses who spoke up against this practice or reported the precarious conditions at Nicaraguan hospitals have been fired from their positions without explanation, sparking international condemnation. The goal of these tactics has been to conceal the true number of cases from the public by discouraging anyone from speaking out.

Among the now over 1,000 victims of the virus are respected local radio journalists Gustavo Bermúdez and Sergio León, as well as Edén Pastora, a member of the ruling Sandinista party.

The peaceful protests against Daniel Ortega’s regime that started in 2018 and resulted in violent repression and over 300 deaths came to a halt last year as the government sat down for talks with civil society and religious organizations. Since then, the government has refused to even consider new elections and the promises they made to release political prisoners have gone almost completely unfulfilled.

The stubbornness of the regime led people to continue protesting until late in 2019, when they were once again met with violent repression. While some political prisoners in Nicaragua were eventually released in the past 12 months, 86 of them are still detained and many have shown COVID-19 symptoms while in prison.

In spite of these terrible conditions, Nicaraguans remain steadfast in their fight to help one another during this crisis and bring back democracy to their country. While the regime ignored the spread of the virus, activists joined together with doctors to raise awareness of the virus, and many have also been working to bring some transparency to the dubious COVID-19 figures that the regime has tried to pass off as real with initiatives such as Observatorio Nicaragua, which estimates that the number of cases in the country is probably three times higher than the official government figures.

 

Algeria

Protests in Algeria successfully ousted aging president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2019 after he announced his intent to seek a fifth term. Protesters cited political corruption, lack of freedom, and a poor economy as the root of their discontent. Since then, non-violent protests have continued.

The protest movement known as Hirak succeeded in pressuring the military to drop its support for Bouteflika after 20 years in power. After Bouteflika resigned, the chairman of the upper house of parliament, Abdelkader Bensalah, assumed interim leadership of the regime.

The elections that were scheduled for April were postponed, and protesters vowed to continue marching until the removal of what they referred to as “Le Pouvoir,” the political and business elite which has monopolized power since independence in 1962.

Ongoing pressure from the streets led the regime to purge prominent associates of Bouteflika. Bouteflika’s brother, advisor, intelligence chiefs, ministers, and other senior officials from the National Liberation Front (FLN) and Democratic National Rally parties were arrested and prosecuted. Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal, both former prime ministers and Bouteflika associates, were also charged with corruption.

In December 2019, Ahmed Gaid Salah, the most powerful man in Algeria, died. He had orchestrated the removal of Bouteflika from behind the scenes and handpicked allies to help him remodel the structure of government. The same month, Algeria held presidential elections which were boycotted by the opposition. Abdelmajid Tebboune, the former prime minister, won the election with the lowest turnout ever, defeating four other candidates closely associated with Bouteflika and Salah.

Currently, Algeria has a new president, new prime minister, and new cabinet. However, the foundation of Algeria’s political system remains unchanged and discontent lingers. Following the election of Abdelmajid Tebboune, protests have continued weekly despite repression from the regime.

The Algerian regime used divide-and-rule tactics to crackdown on protesters. It arrested protesters waving the Amazigh flag, which represents the indigenous population who celebrate their cultural origins in North Africa. The regime has long associated the Amazigh flag with claims of self determination and fears that displaying it would undermine and threaten national unity.

This escalation and crackdown on peaceful protesters is a clear attack on freedom of expression and association. Tebboune has also followed this same plan of repression. So far, he has pardoned 10,000 prisoners including opposition figures, but many more remain imprisoned.

Tebboune has met with the opposition to develop a reform package. This reform package includes electoral changes and enshrines the separation of powers. In February, Tebboune announced a constitutional amendment seeking to establish true democracy and protect the rights and freedoms of citizens.

This reform package also introduces reforms to the justice system and the fortification of mechanisms to prevent corruption. The action plan also focuses on economic recovery within the oil-rich country that focuses on “food security, energy transition, and the digital economy.” In essence, Tebboune plans to amend the constitution and grant more agency to parliament.

The electoral system, which is highly criticized by the opposition, has been a main point of contention. In 1989, competitive political parties were legalized, including the ruling FLN party along with candidates from other parties.

In an effort to maintain political dominance, FLN-controlled parties made significant modifications to electoral districts. This redistribution of districts and constituencies led to the overrepresentation of rural regions, where FLN garnered the most support.

Between the years of 1989 and 1997, Algeria adopted an electoral system that seemed democratic at first, but catered to the FLN and the perpetuation of their rule. One of the most crucial demands of Hirak is the holding of free and fair elections, which, according to them, cannot be done within the context of the current electoral system.

At this moment in time, protesters continue to demand the resignation of Bouteflika’s allies that remain in power, visible steps toward democracy, improved living standards, and the release of peaceful protesters. Although Tebboune has vowed to end harassment against protesters, violations persist.

The coronavirus pandemic has influenced the protester’s ability to take to the streets and has been used as an excuse by the regime to stifle dissent. Algerians demonstrated peacefully every Friday since February 2019, but when the pandemic hit, protesters were told to stay inside on what would have been the 57th week of protests.

On March 17, the government banned all public gatherings. Tebboune has since extended the lockdown, along with the 5 p.m. curfew with no updated timeline on its removal.  A second presidential pardon on April 1 freed around 5,000 inmates to reduce overcrowding, but did not include any Hirak prisoners. It is clear that Algerian leaders are employing COVID-19 as a means to hinder the pro-democracy movement.

In an effort to adapt the protests to the current pandemic, Hirak moved toward online activism. However, authorities blocked vital channels of information and critical websites on April 9, citing that they were “fake news.”

Some advocates, including Walid Kechida, were arrested  because of their online activism. The charges online activists face  are vague, and include “harming national unity,” attacking the “integrity of national territory,” as well as “publications meant at harming national interest.”

According to Amnesty International, there have been 20 arrests or pre-trial detentions that have been made between March and April of this year since the outbreak of the coronavirus, as a result of exercising freedom of speech.

Additionally, the Minister of Communication Ammar Belhimer stated that authorities have blocked two online independent media channels, Maghreb Emergent and RadioMpost without prior notification. Hirak is now facing a media war with the state, citing how their digital campaigns have been stifled and systemically suppressed by the government.

 

Hong Kong

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe, protests around the world quieted down, and Hong Kong was no different. However, protesters continued to strategize and organize online, exchange ideas, and utilize the network built in the protests last year to support their communities.

As cases of COVID-19 rose, protesters in Hong Kong turned their attention away from street protests temporarily to organize COVID-19 tracking tools, mask donations, and donations for medical workers. These community activities were hugely successful in preventing a large-scale outbreak in Hong Kong. In fact, while most of the world remains in lockdown, Hong Kong never had to impose one thanks to vigilant mask-wearing and community awareness.

The successful reaction to  the pandemic in Hong Kong came despite the local government’s inaction. Carrie Lam’s administration was slow to respond to the city’s worries, refusing to cut off transportation from mainland China as cases in China soared.

Instead of waiting for the government to act, the people of Hong Kong organized themselves to support the elderly and medical communities, and as the city had already been through the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, people were already experienced and knew how to tackle a communicable disease.

Although the Chinese government was under  pressure while fighting the pandemic on the mainland, the regime did not slow down its efforts to dismantle Hong Kong’s freedoms.

In May, the National People’s Congress (NPC), an annual gathering of the CCP’s party members to rubber-stamp policies, circumvented the law-making powers of Hong Kong’s legislative council and passed a national security law. The NPC typically does not have law-making powers for Hong Kong; Hong Kong’s legislative power lies with the Hong Kong Legislative Council. The law, according to Hong Kong’s mini constitution, was supposed to be enacted by Hong Kong’s lawmakers only, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) does not have direct power to impose such a law on Hong Kong.

Yet, shaken by last year’s large-scale protests, the CCP had been growing impatient and finally decided to take matters into its own hands. The new national security law threatens freedom of expression, as it criminalizes vaguely defined sedition and subversion. It is also expected to prevent activists and organizations in Hong Kong from communicating and receiving support from international organizations, as it bans “foreign interference.”

Angered by the CCP’s move, protesters in Hong Kong flooded the streets to protest with masks on. Since then, a number of protests, small and large, have happened in Hong Kong to protest the CCP’s increasing aggression at eliminating Hong Kong’s freedom.

Notably, for the first time in 30 years, a Tiananmen Square Massacre vigil was banned for COVID-19 reasons, though many suspected the ban to be intentionally preventing a gathering to criticize the CCP. Despite the ban, thousands of Hongkongers showed up at the vigil to commemorate the historical event anyway.

Although Hongkongers were temporarily slowed down by COVID-19, their passion for defending the city’s freedoms has persisted, and they have gone back into the streets to protest the promulgation of the draconian national security law, which targets pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, and uses overbroad and vague charges that carry up to life imprisonment to stifle dissent.

Despite the threat of the national security law, on July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China, thousands gathered to protest this further tightening of Hong Kong’s freedom. Many protesters have also been creatively circumventing the ban on protest slogans, gathering to protest with blank pieces of paper.

Although many Hongkongers bravely defy the national security law, the threat of imprisonment has forced multiple activists into leaving the city in self-imposed exile. Pro-democracy organizations, such as Demosisto, have decided to disband. Social media users rushed to erase their pro-democracy posts in fear of arrest. Even libraries in Hong Kong have pulled pro-democracy books from off their shelves. But many prominent pro-democracy leaders are still continuing their activism in their own personal capacities, whether in Hong Kong or overseas.

 


Authoritarian regimes around the world have exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to tighten restrictions on free speech, arrest peaceful protesters, and cement their power. Activists and ordinary citizens alike rose to the task of keeping civil society active and engaged throughout the combined political and health crises of the past seven months.

Where lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings were necessary for public health, activists refocused their movements online, connecting people stuck at home and engaging them remotely. In cases where authoritarian regimes deliberately covered up or were too incompetent to manage the pandemic, civil society organizations stepped in to educate people and provide support to struggling healthcare systems.

Doctors, nurses, and other frontline workers joined activists in protesting the dangerous behaviors of governments that jeopardized citizen’s health. These actions have succeeded in building greater trust between people in polarized societies and exposing the corrupt nature of authoritarian regimes.  

As we are now in the second half of 2020, we must keep the spirit of last year’s protest movements alive. Activists must continue to work together to keep the pressure up on authoritarian regimes while doing their best to protect and inform people about the virus where this information is lacking. In this way civil society can remain strong and active even during a pandemic, providing the kind of support to citizens where authoritarian governments have failed. Keeping the flame of liberal democracy alive is now more important than ever.