European Federation of Journalists

EU urged again to protect rule of law during COVID-19 states of emergency

Picture credit: Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) today joined 80 MEPs and civil society organisations, including Transparency International and Access Info Europe, in calling on the European Union to address restrictions on the rule of law and human rights, including freedom of expression and information, being introduced via coronavirus pandemic emergency measures.

In an open letter sent to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council President Charles Michel, the signatories warn of the misuse of the coronavirus crisis to silence dissent, limit freedom of expression, marginalise civil society, and erode democratic values.

The letter also calls on the EU to ensure that the crisis does not serve as a smokescreen for undermining Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG16), which includes the right of access to information as a key indicator.

This letter highlights the particular example of Hungary, where the Parliament approved a law giving the government wide and indefinite powers to rule by decree, seriously limiting freedom of speech and mandating draconian prison sentences for spreading ‘misinformation’ which could be used to stifle independent journalism.

The EFJ had already expressed concerns about these actions and signed the petition No Quarantine for Democracy!, which is calling on all EU Member States to ensure reinforced protections for journalists, the media and civil society organisations during the COVID-19 crisis.

In view of this serious situation, the signatories urge the EU not to sit idly by and call on it to condemn Hungary’s actions. They also call for strengthened controls of the spending of EU funds by Member States –  so that anti-democratic and illiberal activities within the 27 are not funded –  and, to take swift and decisive action to address these threats to the rule of law that are being carried out under the guise of emergency powers.

The open letter is available here.

Read also the report of our recent joint mission to Hungary.