Democracy and the rule of law have suffered a hit across a large number of European countries in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, as
shown in this new wide-ranging report by the Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties).
The report, which covers 14 countries across the EU, has been jointly drafted by Liberties and its national member and partner organisations.
It points to the most striking developments concerning the rule of law and democracy in the countries surveyed as viewed by Liberties’ members.
Among the most alarming findings, the reports expose the increasing pressure put on media freedom and the space for civil society across many of the countries analysed. This is particularly disturbing in these times of crisis, as it is when our democracy becomes more fragile and our freedoms are limited that we most need free and strong watchdogs to hold the powerful to account.
This includes political pressure on the media, which has increased or is still at worrying levels in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia. Harassment and attacks targeting journalists have also become more commonplace. Slovenia is a particularly striking example, with journalists routinely threatened, women journalists labelled as ‘presstitutes’, and self-censorship being commonly used among journalists to protect themselves against such attacks. An increasingly hostile environment for media is also reported in Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Slovenia and Croatia, although Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic have seen improvements in the protection of whistleblowers.
Restrictions on freedom of association have not only persisted, but have worsened for example in Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Ireland and Slovenia, with Romania being the only country where some real progress in this area was reported. Disruptions of protests and arbitrary detentions of protesters are increasingly worrying trends in many countries, including France, Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, Spain, and Slovenia.
Abusive prosecutions and SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation) by corporations and politicians to harass activists and silence criticism is also a practice that is reported to be on the rise, particularly in Croatia, Poland, Slovenia and Spain. This practice had already become more common in several other countries, including France, Ireland and Italy. The independence of the judicial system has further weakened in countries where serious deficiencies already existed, like Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland. But concerns about the integrity of the judiciary and the transparency of appointments also arise in other countries, such as Ireland and Spain.
Heavy case backlogs still seriously affect the length of proceedings in many countries, hindering courts from delivering justice within a reasonable time. This is often due to the fact that governments do not provide the judiciary with enough resources, as highlighted in particular in Bulgaria, Italy, Ireland, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
Other barriers have increased that hamper people getting fair and effective justice, exacerbated by the impact of the measures taken to address the pandemic on justice systems. These include high court fees in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, the inadequacy of the legal aid system in Romania and Spain and the violation of fair trial rights in criminal proceedings, in particular for persons in pre-trial detention in Italy, Poland and Slovakia.
Conform raportului realizat de Uniunea pentru Libertățile Civile din Europa, publicat marți de publicația politico.eu, unele dintre măsurile restrictive implementate de țările europene au contribuit, accidental sau cu intenție, la șubrezirea instituțiilor democratice. Pe listă se află și România, acolo unde raportul atrage atenția asupra lipsei de transparență din perioada stării de urgență și a încercărilor de intimidare a jurnaliștilor, printre exemple aflându-se și amenințările autorităților cu o anchetă penală la adresa ziarului Libertatea.