Man walking and playing a drum

Democracy in crisis

The Global Rights Index has tracked the key elements of workplace democracy for eight years, including the right to establish and join a trade union, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike as well as the right to free speech and assembly, which symbolises a healthy democracy. In many countries, COVID-19 has been used as a pretext to curb free speech.

Free speech and assembly under attack

The systematic dismantling of the building blocks of freedom and democracy is taking place through sustained attacks on workers’ rights and workplace democracy as governments supress free speech and assembly. In the past eight years, the Global Rights Index has recorded an unprecedented increase in attacks on free speech and assembly from 26% of countries in 2014 to 43% of countries in 2021. Countries where freedom of speech and assembly was denied or constrained increased from 56 in 2020 to 64 in 2021.


43% of countries restricted free speech and assembly.


Countries where freedom of speech and assembly was denied or constrained increased from 56 in 2020 to 64 in 2021.


Countries where freedom of speech and assembly was denied or constrained increased from 26% of countries in 2014 to 43% of countries in 2021.

Middle East and North Africa


83% of countries in the Middle East and North Africa restricted free speech and assembly.

Right to free speech and assembly

On 25 July 2020, security forces in Jordan arrested the board members of the Jordanian Teachers’ Association (JTA), raided the union’s offices and shut it down for a period of two years. The prosecutor charged JTA president Nasser Nawasreh with incitement over a speech the union leader delivered on 22 July and which was critical of the government. Riot police were deployed to stop peaceful demonstrations initiated by JTA members denouncing the crackdown on trade union rights.

On 16 August 2020, the Magistrate’s Criminal Court in Amman imposed a blackout on news coverage related to cases brought against the JTA. The ban on press coverage applied to news, publications, and comments on trial proceedings. These actions by the authorities have provoked peaceful demonstrations in several cities in Jordan. However, other JTA members and supporters were arrested during those demonstrations.

While JTA board members were released on bail on 23 August 2020, due to a legal provision of limiting detention to 30 days, on 26 October, a JTA public press conference was banned by the governor of Amman.

Right to free speech and assembly

Prior to May Day 2020, the intelligence services of the Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran harassed and made phone calls to labour activists to threaten them with arrest if they planned or attended May Day events. The government also preventively arrested several trade unionists and sent them to prison, including teacher and union leader Esmail Abdi.



61% of countries in Asia-Pacific restricted free speech and assembly.

Right to free speech and assembly

As Myanmar’s military coup escalated with the violent suppression of popular dissent, hundreds of people were arrested and detained without any due process. The military junta continued its descent into authoritarianism with its planned cyber law, which would give the authorities sweeping powers to block any content, placing the entire population under surveillance and eliminating freedom of speech.

The military released the planned law on 9 February 2021 with a spurious six-day “consultation” window. Even questioning an action of the junta online will lead to imprisonment and heavy fines. The law includes under its cyber-crime framework “written and verbal statement against any existing law” and “offences committed locally and internationally”, meaning that persons outside Myanmar who criticise the junta face the prospect of action by the Myanmar military.

Right to free speech and assembly

On 2 April 2020, Soy Sros, a local union leader at Superl Cambodia, a leatherware company, was arrested for ‘’provocation’’ under the Cambodian Criminal Code for social media posts criticising the suspension of union members, including a pregnant woman, during the coronavirus crisis. She was held at Kompong Speu provincial prison where, according to CUMW president Pav Sina, her health severely deteriorated.



50% of countries in Africa restricted free speech and assembly.

Right to free speech and assembly

The government of Zimbabwe banned demonstrations against the deteriorating social and economic crisis in the country that were planned for 31 July 2020. Labour activists, students, journalists and organisers of the demonstrations were arrested and charged with inciting violence and attempting to overthrow the government. The actual demonstrations were stifled by a heavy police and army presence, and the few who took placards out to the streets were arrested.

Right to free speech and assembly

On 5 February 2020, four union leaders were arrested in Libreville, Gabon, during the demonstration of Dynamique Unitaire, the country's leading trade union organisation, to challenge the government's austerity plan. Using the pretext of the ongoing meetings concerning the reform of the Labour Code on 4 February, the Ministry of Interior pre-emptively banned the demonstration. The trade union leaders decided to go ahead with the planned demonstration, but the authorities sent in the police force, which brutally repressed the protesters and arrested the union leaders.

Right to free speech and assembly

On 30 October 2020, workers from Truda Foods in South Africa gathered to protest the firing of their colleagues for activity on social media. Truda had suspended several workers for “liking” posts made by their union’s general secretary. Olwethu Samente, Vuyiswa Gontsana, Luyanda Qumza, Yolisa Alam, Zethu Sopete and Lungiswa Solundwana received letters suspending them for committing “an action/conduct detrimental to the interest of the employer” and “indecent/inappropriate conduct”. After being suspended, the workers asked to see Truda’s social media policy. Instead, they were fired.



22% of countries in Europe restricted free speech and assembly.

Right to free speech and assembly

In Turkey, on May Day the Istanbul police blockaded the DİSK Confederation Central Office in İstanbul in the early morning hours and arrested DISK president Arzu Çerkezoğlu, DISK general secretary Adnan Serdaroğlu and twenty-five members of DISK. The confrontation took place as police blocked the march to Istanbul's Taksim Square, using the COVID-19 curfew as a pretext. The trade unionists were released later in the afternoon. It was the third time the leaders had been arrested that year.

Right to free speech and assembly

In 2020, the Belarusian government imposed a ban on holding meetings, pickets, processions and demonstrations organised by trade unions. The situation was further complicated by Council of Ministers Ruling No. 196 of 3 April 2020, pursuant to which the organiser of a mass event, prior to submitting an application to the local executive and administrative body, must meet a long list of exorbitant requirements, including ensuring the maintenance of public order during the rally, the provision of medical services and cleaning services, all expenses being borne by the organiser. The law further provides for the possibility of liquidating a trade union for even a single violation of its requirements. These regulations amount to a de facto ban on all public assemblies and strikes for unions.

Right to free speech and assembly

In Belgium, at the beginning of September 2020, a Molenbeek commune peacekeeper and CGSP trade union delegate was dismissed for having published on his Facebook page articles questioning government policies related to the management of the coronavirus. A support action was organised on 3 September in front of the town hall in favour of this worker's freedom of opinion.



20% of countries in the Americas restricted free speech and assembly.

Right to free speech and assembly

On 15 May 2020, Brinks Colombia terminated national union president Frank Gualdron, claiming that he had posted images of a work-related protest on Facebook. Gualdron was among eight union officers at Brinks who had been notified of their termination since Colombia declared a COVID-19 health emergency in March 2020, in what appeared to be a deliberate anti-union strategy.

The government in India passed three laws that severely restricted basic workers’ rights and severely limited the activities of trade unions, such as limiting the right to strike.STR / AFP

Eight-year trends: Right to free speech and assembly

Companies violating the right to free speech and assembly