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Crackdowns and Attacks on Freedom of Expression as a Precursor to Authoritarianism

Crackdowns and attacks on freedom of expression are often a precursor to authoritarianism, yet this fundamental right underpins the very practices that define democracy.

The ability of citizens to hold their elected leaders accountable and to express their political preferences, including by accessing information and forming opinions, depends on protecting freedom of expression. Yet even as the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored just how crucial accurate, reliable, and timely information is, it has also provided cover for governments around the world to restrict this right and punish those who use it.

Global indices such as V-DemARTICLE19’s Global Expression Report and Freedom House’s Freedom in the World, the annual reports of attacks on journalists from the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, and countless other civil society efforts to count and quantify the state of free expression show worrying (TH) declines. Yet this decline is often regarded as a regrettable symptom of democratic erosion instead of the precursor, and so interventions to stop the decline in democracy are incorrectly focused.

This panel brings together experts and practitioners to discuss the threats and explain why expression must be at the heart of new power relationships.


Moderator: Quinn McKew, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19


  • Denise Dora LLM, MA, a human rights activist, lawyer, and author based in Brazil, with more than 25 years of experience on gender equality, human rights, socio-environmental law and access to justice. A founding member of THEMIS – Gender Justice and Human Rights, a feminist organisation that develops legal empowerment programs for women community leaderships since 1993, she worked for the Ford Foundation as a senior program officer responsible for the Human Rights Program in Brazil from 2000 to 2011 and has served on the Advisory Committee of UN Women in Brazil and Latina America and Caribe regions. Currently, Denise is a board member of Conectas Human Rights, the Ibirapitanga Institute, and Director of ARTICLE 19 South America. 
  • Shahidul Alam, award-winning photojournalist (Bangladesh) and founder of the Drik agency and Pathshala media institute
  • Professor Staffan I. Lindberg, Professor of political science and Director of the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg (Sweden), founding Principal Investigator of Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem), founding Director of the national research infrastructure DEMSCORE, ERC Consolidator, Wallenberg Academy Fellow, author of Democracy and Elections in Africa (JHUP 2006), co-author of Varieties of Democracy (CUP 2020) as well as other books, and over 60 articles on issues such as democracy, elections, democratization, autocratization, accountability, clientelism, sequence analysis methods, women’s representation, and voting behaviour. Lindberg also has extensive experience as consultant on development and democracy, and as advisor to international organizations.

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