Global perspectives on resisting populist authoritarianism

In his first weeks in power, U.S. President Trump has sparked worldwide protests, clamped down on human rights, reportedly profited from trade deals, and directly threatened a free press. This is how dictators behave, attempting to control the media and bullying anyone who questions their decisions.

At Access Now we know that President Trump’s administration is yet another example of the rise of authoritarianism, populism, and — yes — racism that we’re seeing around the world.

Before the election, we shared our 10-point plan for the next U.S. administration, detailing the most pressing battles we expect over the next four years.

Since then, we’ve mobilized our support for digital rights by pressing experts at the U.N. to investigate proposed rules to require that you hand over your passwords at the border; urging leading mobile providers to boost connectivity at demonstrations; confronting tech executives who were meeting with then President-elect Trump; supporting grassroots organizations through our 24-hour Digital Security Helpline; and in many other ways. Our aim is to get out in front of this new administration’s move to crush human rights.

Some of us have been down this route before. We’re a global organization guided by staff in regional offices who have deep experience in resisting repressive regimes.  We asked them to share what the Trump administration means to them, and their lessons in fighting back:

“In Costa Rica and Central America, the rise of an authoritarian leader in the U.S. has influenced and encouraged political and social movements with similar aims to shrink the already-reduced spaces for human rights groups both online and offline. We need a counter movement that, based in facts, demonstrates the importance of rights before the outbreak expands across the region.” – Daniel Bedoya, Costa Rica

“In the Middle East and North Africa, advocates for civil liberties are concerned that Trump’s election grants greater impunity to local corrupt politicians. Already, we see the Egyptian government launching sophisticated hacking campaigns against human rights defenders and Jordan arresting opposition figures for posting their opinions on social media. We need to ensure that the rise of populism — whether in the U.S., the European Union, or elsewhere — is checked, and that our contributions to human rights work is sustained globally, regardless of the changes occurring in domestic policy platforms.”  – Wafa Ben Hassine, Tunis

“Developments in the U.S. show that you have to keep fighting to advance digital rights in every democracy across the world. As the next two billion come online, we must all commit to ensuring they can experience and benefit from a free, open internet — we cannot take it as given that they will get to do so. As battles reignite in the U.S. on civil liberties, progressive policy makers and civil society in other democracies have the opportunity to help push the line further for all internet users.” – Raman Jit Singh Chima, New Delhi

“Europe has been facing the challenge of populist, nationalist, and authoritarian regimes historically and these days as well. Previous responses don’t seem to work anymore, and the unity of civil society organizations, including human rights and digital rights groups, is more important than ever to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all people, and vulnerable groups in particular. In Eastern Europe, the lack of American support for human rights will put these young democracies at risk under the increasing influence of Putin’s Russia.” – Fanny Hidvegi, Brussels

“In some countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, internet users have been struggling with the decay of democratic institutions, including government transparency, and growing attacks on activists by elements of the government. We need to find ways to reinforce checks and balances and protect institutions that are still working.” – Javier Pallero, Argentina

That’s just a brief glimpse at how we’re looking at the situation in the U.S. and how this might impact our fight for digital rights globally.  You can be sure that these conversations and others will be on the agenda at RightsCon Brussels (March 29-31), where more than 1,000 people will gather to discuss the future of the internet around the world. We hope you join us. Until then, we’ll keep fighting.