Human Rights Watch (HRW) Wednesday criticized repressive measures on civil society groups by European governments considered to be liberal democracies. In a report, HRW expressed alarm at democratic backsliding in “healthy” democracies such as the UK, Italy, Greece and France. According to the V-Dem Institute, the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated democratic backsliding around the world.
The report highlights the French government’s crusade against the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF). The CCIF has assisted HRW in its reportage on abusive raids conducted by the state against Muslims. The government charged the group under Article L212-1 of the Internal Security Code, which reads:
All associations or groups of fact are dissolved by decree in the Council of Ministers which…cause or contribute through their actions to discrimination, hatred or violence against a person or group of persons by reason of their origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or belonging or non-membership, true or supposed, to a specific ethnic group, nation, alleged race or religion, or propagate ideas or theories tending to justify or encourage such discrimination, hatred or violence.
The CCIF was accused of spreading hate by denunciating perceived Islamophobia in France’s counterterrorism efforts. In December 2020, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin stated that the group was dissolved as per Article L212-1. The French courts later upheld this move. Belgian Law Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne later revealed that CCIF has reconstituted itself in Belgium as the Collective against Islamophobia in Europe (CCIE).
In the UK, the report highlighted UK charities accused by British right-wing parties of “ideological dogma” and aiding illegal immigration and new laws endangering civil liberties such as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which imposes new restrictions and penalties on protests.
In Greece, the report cited the September 2020 hearing between the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor and Greek human rights groups. The alleged harassment of migrant rights groups by the Greek government caught the attention of a UN official, who stated:
It was disturbing to hear how the fear of arbitrary arrest had deterred some of the participants from carrying out their human rights work and offering humanitarian aid to people at the border of the European Union. Given the cases that have already been brought against some defenders, it would seem this risk is very real.
HRW noted similar abuses of state power in connection with Italy. In 2019, the UN Human Rights Office (UNOHCR) released a statement criticizing an Italian decree criminalizing solidarity with organizations working to rescue Libyan migrants at sea. The UNOHCR reaffirmed its support for these organizations.