Freedom in the World 2020:
New tactics by authoritarian governments as freedom declines for the ninth year
More aggressive tactics by authoritarian regimes and an upsurge in terrorist attacks contributed to a disturbing decline in global freedom in 2018, according to Freedom in the World 2019, Freedom House’s annual report on the condition of political rights and civil liberties.
The report finds an overall decline in freedom for the ninth consecutive year.
“Acceptance of democracy as the world’s dominant form of government—and of an international system built on democratic ideals—is under greater threat than at any other point in the last 25 years,” said Arch Puddington, vice president for research. “Until recently, most authoritarian regimes claimed to respect international agreements and paid lip service to the norms of competitive elections and human rights,” Puddington said. “Today they argue for the superiority of what amounts to one-party rule, and seek to throw off the constraints of fundamental diplomatic principles.”
Nearly twice as many countries suffered declines as registered gains—61 to 33—and the number of countries with improvements hit its lowest point since the nine-year erosion began.
The report cites Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a rollback of democratic gains by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s intensified campaign against press freedom and civil society, and further centralization of authority in China as evidence of a growing disdain for democratic standards that was found in nearly all regions of the world.
The report also singled out terrorism for its impact on freedom in 2014. From West Africa through the Middle East to South Asia, radical jihadist forces plagued local governments and populations. Their impact on countries such as Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, and Nigeria was devastating, as they massacred security forces and civilians alike, took foreigners hostage, and killed or enslaved religious minorities, including Muslims they deemed apostates.
Key Global Findings:
- Of the 195 countries assessed, 89 (46 percent) were rated Free, 55 (28 percent) Partly Free, and 51 (26 percent) Not Free.
- All but one region had more countries with declines than with gains. Asia-Pacific had an even split.
- A troubling number of large, economically powerful, or regionally influential countries moved backward: Azerbaijan, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela.
- Continuing a recent trend, the worst reversals affected freedom of expression, civil society, and the rule of law.
- In a new and disquieting development, a number of countries lost ground due to state surveillance, restrictions on internet communications, and curbs on personal autonomy.
- Ratings for the Middle East and North Africa region were the worst in the world, followed by Eurasia. Syria, a dictatorship mired in civil war and ethnic division and facing uncontrolled terrorism, received the lowest Freedom in the World score of any country in over a decade.
- A notable exception to the negative trend was Tunisia, which became the first Arab country to hold the status of Free since Lebanon was gripped by civil war 40 years ago.
Worst of the Worst:
- Of the 51 countries and territories designated as Not Free, 12 have been given the worst-possible rating of 7 for both political rights and civil liberties.
- The Worst of the Worst countries are the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The Worst of the Worst territories are Tibet and Western Sahara.
Key Regional Findings:
- The announcement that the United States and Cuba agreed to the normalization of relations after a rupture of more than 50 years marked a major development in the Americas region. Although it ranks as the worst-rated country in the Americas, Cuba registered a slight improvement in 2014 for growth in independent media.
- In Mexico, public outrage at the authorities’ failure to stem criminal violence and corruption grew into mass demonstrations that challenged the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto.
- The United States experienced a wave of protests over police killings of unarmed African Americans in Missouri, New York, and elsewhere, and the repeated failure of prosecutors to secure indictments of the officers responsible. Separately, in December the U.S. Senate released a lengthy report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s torture and mistreatment of terrorism suspects in the years immediately after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the country.
- Thailand suffered a coup d’état in which the military ousted an elected government, suspended the constitution, and implemented martial law restrictions that drastically rolled back political rights and civil liberties.
- Myanmar, which has only partly abandoned military rule, began to veer from the path to democracy with greater restrictions on journalists and demonstrators, continued violence and official discrimination against the Rohingya minority, and proposed laws that would ban religious conversions and interfaith marriages.
- Hong Kong suffered restrictions on press freedom and freedom of assembly surrounding protests against a Chinese government decision to limit candidate nominations for future executive elections.
- Gains in Ukraine related to the ouster of corrupt president Viktor Yanukovych in February were offset by Russia’s seizure of Crimea in March and ongoing battles with pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east.
- Russian-occupied Crimea, evaluated separately for the first time, received ratings only slightly better than those of worst-ranked Eurasian states Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
- The Russian government intensified domestic controls on dissent, tightening its grip on the media sector and nongovernmental organizations.
- Kyrgyzstan, though still rated better than its neighbors, suffered from increased government restrictions on freedom of assembly and civil society groups.
- In Hungary, the Fidesz party won a renewed parliamentary supermajority and continued to transform the country’s institutions, facing few obstacles from the divided and enfeebled opposition.
- Turkey drifted further from democratic norms, with prime minister Erdoğan rising to the presidency and overseeing government attempts to quash corruption cases against his allies and associates as well as greater interference in the media and judiciary.
The Middle East and North Africa
- Tunisia became the Arab world’s only Free country and the sole success story of the Arab Spring after holding democratic elections under a new constitution.
- The rest of the Middle East and North Africa was racked by violence and tragedy, including the Syrian civil war, the expansion of the Islamic State and other extremist militant factions, and new internal conflict in Libya.
- Egypt solidified its return to autocracy with sham elections, summary mass trials, and a crackdown on all forms of dissent.
- News from sub-Saharan Africa was dominated by the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and a sharp rise in violence by Islamist militants in Nigeria and Kenya.
- Uganda fell from Partly Free to Not Free after a series of recent laws targeting the opposition, civil society, the LGBT community, and women led to serious rights abuses and increased suppression of dissent.
- In South Sudan, civil conflict fueled widespread ethnic violence and displacement, and the rival factions failed to agree on a peace deal that would allow the country to hold elections.
- In Burkina Faso, President Blaise Compaoré was forced to resign amid popular protests, leading the military to dissolve the parliament and take charge of the country.
- Improvements were seen in Madagascar and Guinea-Bissau, which held their first elections during late 2013 and 2014 following coups in previous years.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.