Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

For Immediate Release


Kerri Kennedy,, 1-917-817-4457

Press Release

New Project Documents How Governments are Using COVID-19 to Impose Authoritarian Policies

Jan. 26 launch event features peacebuilding experts and report release.

In response to the pandemic, governments around the world have been enacting new policies to protect public health—including many that are necessary to slow the spread of the virus. But in a time when authoritarianism is also on the rise, some governments are exploiting the public health crisis to impose dangerous policies that could impact civil society long after the pandemic ends. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)—a Quaker organization that works in 17 countries across the world—is launching a new project called Under the Mask that tracks and analyses government abuse of power.

The website for the project will launch on Tuesday, January 26 at 11 a.m. ET / 4pm GMT. The online launch event will feature peacebuilding experts and activists striving to protect our rights and freedoms in these times. Speakers include:

  • Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. She works closely with governments around the world and United Nations entities to advance human rights protections in some of the most difficult contexts.
  • Siphosami Malunga, the Executive Director of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, which works to reduce political instability and a human rights lawyer with extensive experience in justice and governance in Africa.
  • AFSC staff, including Joyce Ajlouny, General Secretary; Sahar Vardi, Israel Program Manager; and Kerri Kennedy, Associate General Secretary of International Programs. The panel will be moderated by Lucy Roberts.

“We are witnessing a global shift toward authoritarianism,” said Kerri Kennedy, Associate General Secretary for International Programs at AFSC. “The restrictions we have seen on civil liberties over the past decade are being accelerated by COVID-19. It is vitally important for us to identify, monitor, and resist the misuse and normalization of extreme measures that further restrict civic space and harm marginalized people.”

The Under the Mask site will serve as a hub for restriction mapping; online virtual dialogues and trainings; and research, media, and tools for civil society and journalists to use. Users can find information by region or by the types of restrictions. The site also includes recommendations from AFSC about how to address these issues.  

There is also a limited podcast series highlighting activists in Kenya, Mexico, and Israel talking about their work challenging these restrictions. A report will be released in conjunction with the site launch documenting the first year of the pandemic through nine kinds of restrictions that could limit civil space for the long term and how civil society can respond.


The American Friends Service Committee is a practical expression
of the faith of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Committed
to the principles of nonviolence and justice, it seeks in its work and
witness to draw on the transforming power of love, human and divine.

'Bolsonaro Out!': Massive Protests as Brazil's Covid-19 Death Toll Tops 500,000

"We are on the street to defend our country, our people, our lives, our culture, our education, our economy. We can no longer die of Covid."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·

Summit Participants Embrace 'Vaccine Internationalism' to End Pandemic

"Our goal is simple: to end the pandemic as quickly as possible by securing Covid-19 vaccines for all," says the coordinator of Progressive International's four-day virtual summit.

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·

As Iran Elects New President, Experts Urge Biden to Rejoin Nuclear Deal, Lift Sanctions

"The Biden administration must remain resolute and seek a break from the disastrous conditions that helped contribute to this result."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·

UN General Assembly Condemns Myanmar Junta Violence, Urges Arms Embargo

Member nations voted 119-1 in favor of the resolution, which also calls for a return to the country's fragile democracy.

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·

Dems Introduce Abolition Amendment to Scrap Constitution's 'Slavery Clause'

"The loophole in our Constitution's ban on slavery not only allowed slavery to continue, but launched an era of discrimination and mass incarceration that continues to this day," said Sen. Jeff Merkley.

Julia Conley, staff writer ·