Posts Tagged ‘press freedom index’

Annual Report by Freedom House: some highlights

February 6, 2019

Freedom House‘s annual report 2019, which in fact covers 2018!, is out. It concludes that in 2018 Freedom in the World recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The reversal has spanned a variety of countries in every region, from long-standing democracies like the United States to consolidated authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. The overall losses are still shallow compared with the gains of the late 20th century, but the pattern is consistent and ominous. The report concludes with a special chapter on the US (see below). For other annual reports 2018, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/annual-report-2018/.

In states that were already authoritarian, earning Not Free designations from Freedom House, governments have increasingly shed the thin façade of democratic practice that they established in previous decades, when international incentives and pressure for reform were stronger. More authoritarian powers are now banning opposition groups or jailing their leaders, dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain. Meanwhile, many countries that democratized after the end of the Cold War have regressed in the face of rampant corruption, antiliberal populist movements, and breakdowns in the rule of law. Most troublingly, even long-standing democracies have been shaken by populist political forces that reject basic principles like the separation of powers and target minorities for discriminatory treatment.

Some light shined through these gathering clouds in 2018. Surprising improvements in individual countries—including Malaysia, Armenia, Ethiopia, Angola, and Ecuador—show that democracy has enduring appeal as a means of holding leaders accountable and creating the conditions for a better life. Even in the countries of Europe and North America where democratic institutions are under pressure, dynamic civic movements for justice and inclusion continue to build on the achievements of their predecessors, expanding the scope of what citizens can and should expect from democracy. The promise of democracy remains real and powerful. Not only defending it but broadening its reach is one of the great causes of our time.

THE WAVE OF DEMOCRATIZATION ROLLS BACK

The end of the Cold War accelerated a dramatic wave of democratization that began as early as the 1970s. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 cleared the way for the formation or restoration of liberal democratic institutions not only in Eastern Europe, but also in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. Between 1988 and 2005, the percentage of countries ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World dropped by almost 14 points (from 37 to 23 percent), while the share of Free countries grew (from 36 to 46 percent). This surge of progress has now begun to roll back. Between 2005 and 2018, the share of Not Free countries rose to 26 percent, while the share of Free countries declined to 44 percent.

The reversals may be a result of the euphoric expansion of the 1990s and early 2000s. As that momentum has worn off, many countries have struggled to accommodate the political swings and contentious debates intrinsic to democracy. Rapidly erected democratic institutions have come under sustained attack in nations that remain economically fragile or are still riven by deep-seated class or ethnic conflicts. Of the 23 countries that suffered a negative status change over the past 13 years (moving from Free to Partly Free, or Partly Free to Not Free), almost two-thirds (61 percent) had earned a positive status change after 1988. For example, Hungary, which became Free in 1990, fell back to Partly Free this year after five consecutive years of decline and 13 years without improvement.

AN EBB TIDE IN ESTABLISHED DEMOCRACIES

With the post–Cold War transition period now over, another shift in the global order is challenging long-standing democracies, from within and without. A crisis of confidence in these societies has intensified, with many citizens expressing doubts that democracy still serves their interests. Of the 41 countries that were consistently ranked Free from 1985 to 2005, 22 have registered net score declines in the last five years.

The crisis is linked to a changing balance of power at the global level. The share of international power held by highly industrialized democracies is dwindling as the clout of China, India, and other newly industrialized economies increases. China’s rise is the most stunning, with GDP per capita increasing by 16 times from 1990 to 2017. The shift has been driven by a new phase of globalization that unlocked enormous wealth around the world. The distribution of benefits has been highly uneven, however, with most accruing to either the wealthiest on a global scale or to workers in industrializing countries. Low- and medium-skilled workers in long-industrialized democracies have gained relatively little from the expansion, as stable, well-paying jobs have been lost to a combination of foreign competition and technological change.

These developments have contributed to increasing anger and anxiety in Europe and the United States over economic inequality and loss of personal status. The center of the political spectrum, which dominated politics in the established democracies as the changes unfolded, failed to adequately address the disruption and dislocation they caused. This created political opportunities for new competitors on the left and right, who were able to cast existing elites as complicit in or benefiting from the erosion of citizens’ living standards and national traditions.

So far it has been antiliberal populist movements of the far right—those that emphasize national sovereignty, are hostile to immigration, and reject constitutional checks on the will of the majority—that have been most effective at seizing the open political space. In countries from Italy to Sweden, antiliberal politicians have shifted the terms of debate and won elections by promoting an exclusionary national identity as a means for frustrated majorities to gird themselves against a changing global and domestic order. By building alliances with or outright capturing mainstream parties on the right, antiliberals have been able to launch attacks on the institutions designed to protect minorities against abuses and prevent monopolization of power. Victories for antiliberal movements in Europe and the United States in recent years have emboldened their counterparts around the world, as seen most recently in the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil.

These movements damage democracies internally through their dismissive attitude toward core civil and political rights, and they weaken the cause of democracy around the world with their unilateralist reflexes. For example, antiliberal leaders’ attacks on the media have contributed to increasing polarization of the press, including political control over state broadcasters, and to growing physical threats against journalists in their countries. At the same time, such attacks have provided cover for authoritarian leaders abroad, who now commonly cry “fake news” when squelching critical coverage.

Similarly, punitive approaches to immigration are resulting in human rights abuses by democracies—such as Australia’s indefinite confinement of seaborne migrants in squalid camps on the remote island of Nauru, the separation of migrant children from their detained parents by the United States, or the detention of migrants by Libyan militias at the behest of Italy—that in turn offer excuses for more aggressive policies towards migrants and refugees elsewhere in the world. Populist politicians’ appeals to “unique” or “traditional” national values in democracies threaten the protection of individual rights as a universal value, which allows authoritarian states to justify much more egregious human rights violations. And by unilaterally assailing international institutions like the United Nations or the International Criminal Court without putting forward serious alternatives, antiliberal governments weaken the capacity of the international system to constrain the behavior of China and other authoritarian powers.

The gravity of the threat to global freedom requires the United States to shore up and expand its alliances with fellow democracies and deepen its own commitment to the values they share. Only a united front among the world’s democratic nations—and a defense of democracy as a universal right rather than the historical inheritance of a few Western societies—can roll back the world’s current authoritarian and antiliberal trends. By contrast, a withdrawal of the United States from global engagement on behalf of democracy, and a shift to transactional or mercenary relations with allies and rivals alike, will only accelerate the decline of democratic norms.

THE COSTS OF FALTERING LEADERSHIP

There should be no illusions about what the deterioration of established democracies could mean for the cause of freedom globally. Neither America nor its most powerful allies have ever been perfect models—the United States ranks behind 51 of the 87 Free countries in Freedom in the World—and their commitment to democratic governance overseas has always competed with other priorities. But the post-Soviet wave of democratization did produce lasting gains and came in no small part because of support and encouragement from the United States and other leading democratic nations. Despite the regression in many newly democratized countries described above, two-thirds of the countries whose freedom status improved between 1988 and 2005 have maintained their new status to date.

That major democracies are now flagging in their efforts, or even working in the opposite direction, is cause for real alarm. The truth is that democracy needs defending, and as traditional champions like the United States stumble, core democratic norms meant to ensure peace, prosperity, and freedom for all people are under serious threat around the world.

For example, elections are being hollowed out as autocracies find ways to control their results while sustaining a veneer of competitive balloting. Polls in which the outcome is shaped by coercion, fraud, gerrymandering, or other manipulation are increasingly common. Freedom House’s indicators for elections have declined at twice the rate of overall score totals globally during the last three years.

In a related phenomenon, the principle of term limits for executives, which have a long provenance in democracies but spread around the world after the end of the Cold War, is weakening. According to Freedom House’s data, leaders in 34 countries have tried to revise term limits—and have been successful 31 times—since the 13-year global decline began. Attacks on term limits have been especially prominent in Africa, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union.

Freedom of expression has come under sustained attack, through both assaults on the press and encroachments on the speech rights of ordinary citizens. Freedom in the World data show freedom of expression declining each year over the last 13 years, with sharper drops since 2012. This year, press freedom scores fell in four out of six regions in the world. Flagrant violations, like the imprisonment of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for their investigative reporting in Myanmar, have become more widespread. Even more stark have been the declines in personal expression, as governments have cracked down on critical discussion among citizens, especially online. The explosion of criminal cases for “insulting the president” in Turkey—more than 20,000 investigations and 6,000 prosecutions in 2017 alone—is one of the most glaring examples of this global trend.

The offensive against freedom of expression is being supercharged by a new and more effective form of digital authoritarianism. As documented in Freedom House’s most recent Freedom on the Net. report, China is now exporting its model of comprehensive internet censorship and surveillance around the world, offering trainings, seminars, and study trips as well as advanced equipment that takes advantage of artificial intelligence and facial recognition technologies. As the internet takes on the role of a virtual public sphere, and as the cost of sophisticated surveillance declines, Beijing’s desire and capacity to spread totalitarian models of digitally enabled social control pose a major risk to democracy worldwide.

Another norm under siege is protection of the rights of migrants and refugees, including the rights to due process, to freedom from discrimination, and to seek asylum. All countries have the legitimate authority to regulate migration, but they must do so in line with international human rights standards and without violating the fundamental principles of justice provided by their own laws and constitutions. Antiliberal populist leaders have increasingly demonized immigrants and asylum seekers and targeted them for discriminatory treatment, often using them as scapegoats to marginalize any political opponents who come to their defense. In Freedom in the World, eight democracies have suffered score declines in the past four years alone due to their treatment of migrants. With some 257 million people estimated to be in migration around the world, the persistent assault on the rights of migrants is a significant threat to human rights and a potential catalyst for other attacks on democratic safeguards.

In addition to mistreating those who arrive in their territory in search of work or protection, a growing number of governments are reaching beyond their borders to target expatriates, exiles, and diasporas. Freedom House found 24 countries around the world—including heavyweights like Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia—that have recently targeted political dissidents abroad with practices such as harassment, extradition requests, kidnapping, and even assassination. Saudi Arabia’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey put a spotlight on authoritarian regimes’ aggressive pursuit of prominent critics. Turkey itself, which has sought to keep Khashoggi’s murder on the front pages, has by its own account captured 104 of its citizens from 21 countries over the last two years in a global crackdown on perceived enemies of the state. Beijing’s growing apparatus for policing opinions and enforcing its views among Chinese citizens and communities overseas has led to outcomes including the forced repatriation of Uighurs from countries where they sought safety and the surveillance of Chinese students at foreign universities. Interpol’s notification system has become a tool for authoritarian governments to detain and harass citizens in exile. The normalization of such transnational violence and harassment would not just shut down the last refuges for organized opposition to many repressive regimes. It would also contribute to a broader breakdown in international law and order, a world of borderless persecution in which any country could be a hunting ground for spies and assassins dispatched by tyrants looking to crush dissent.

Most disturbingly, Freedom House’s global survey shows that ethnic cleansing is a growing trend. In 2005, Freedom in the World reduced the scores of just three countries for ethnic cleansing or other egregious efforts to alter the ethnic composition of their territory; this number has since grown to 11, and in some cases the scale or intensity of such activities has increased over time as well. In Syria and Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of civilians from certain ethnic and religious groups have been killed or displaced as world powers either fail to respond adequately or facilitate the violence. Russia’s occupation of Crimea has included targeted repression of Crimean Tatars and those who insist on maintaining their Ukrainian identity. China’s mass internment of Uighurs and other Muslims—with some 800,000 to 2 million people held arbitrarily in “reeducation” camps—can only be interpreted as a superpower’s attempt to annihilate the distinct identities of minority groups.

Even in a time of new threats to democracy, social movements around the world are expanding the scope of democratic inclusion. They are part of a multigenerational transformation in how the rights of women, of ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities, of migrants, and of people with disabilities are recognized and upheld in practice—not least in places where they were already constitutionally enshrined. Authoritarian and antiliberal actors fear these movements for justice and participation because they challenge unfair concentrations of status and power. The transformation may still be fragile and incomplete, but its underlying drive—to make good on the 20th century’s promise of universal human rights and democratic institutions—is profound.

In this sense, the current moment contains not only danger, but also opportunity for democracy. Those committed to human rights and democratic governance should not limit themselves to a wary defense of the status quo. Instead we should throw ourselves into projects intended to renew national and international orders, to make protections for human dignity even more just and more comprehensive, including for workers whose lives are disrupted by technological and economic change. Democracy requires continuous effort to thrive, and a constant willingness to broaden and deepen the application of its principles. The future of democracy depends on our ability to show that it is more than a set of bare-minimum defenses against the worst abuses of tyrants—it is a guarantee of the freedom to choose and live out one’s own destiny. We must demonstrate that the full promise of democracy can be realized, and recognize that no one else will do it for us.

There are length chapters on the following regions:

There is a special and uneasily frank section on “The Struggle Comes Home: Attacks on Democracy in the United States” by By Mike Abramowitz the President of Freedom House

U.S. President Donald Trump Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images.

….And just as we have called out foreign leaders for undermining democratic norms in their countries, we must draw attention to the same sorts of warning signs in our own country. It is in keeping with our mission, and given the irreplaceable role of the United States as a champion of global freedom, it is a priority we cannot afford to ignore.

The great challenges facing US democracy did not commence with the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Intensifying political polarization, declining economic mobility, the outsized influence of special interests, and the diminished influence of fact-based reporting in favor of bellicose partisan media were all problems afflicting the health of American democracy well before 2017. Previous presidents have contributed to the pressure on our system by infringing on the rights of American citizens. Surveillance programs such as the bulk collection of communications metadata, initially undertaken by the George W. Bush administration, and the Obama administration’s overzealous crackdown on press leaks are two cases in point.

At the midpoint of his term, however, there remains little question that President Trump exerts an influence on American politics that is straining our core values and testing the stability of our constitutional system. No president in living memory has shown less respect for its tenets, norms, and principles. Trump has assailed essential institutions and traditions including the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections. Congress, a coequal branch of government, has too frequently failed to push back against these attacks with meaningful oversight and other defenses.

We recognize the right of freely elected presidents and lawmakers to set immigration policy, adopt different levels of regulation and taxation, and pursue other legitimate aims related to national security. But they must do so according to rules designed to protect individual rights and ensure the long-term survival of the democratic system. There are no ends that justify nondemocratic means.

… While the United States suffered an unusual three-point drop on Freedom in the World’s 100-point scale for 2017, there was no additional net decline for 2018, and the total score of 86 still places the country firmly in the report’s Free category.

….The United States has already been weakened by declines in the rule of law, the conduct of elections, and safeguards against corruption, among other important indicators measured by Freedom in the World. The current overall US score puts American democracy closer to struggling counterparts like Croatia than to traditional peers such as Germany or the United Kingdom.

……In any democracy, it is the role of independent judges and prosecutors to defend the supremacy and continuity of constitutional law against excesses by elected officials, to ensure that individual rights are not abused by hostile majorities or other powerful interests, and to prevent the politicization of justice so that competing parties can alternate in office without fear of unfair retribution. While not without problems, the United States has enjoyed a strong tradition of respect for the rule of law.

President Trump has repeatedly shown disdain for this tradition. Late in 2018, after a federal judge blocked the administration’s plan to consider asylum claims only from those who cross the border at official ports of entry, the president said, “This was an Obama judge. And I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like this anymore.”

The president has since urged the Department of Justice to prosecute his political opponents and critics. He has used his pardon power to reward political and ideological allies and encourage targets of criminal investigations to refuse cooperation with the government. He has expressed contempt for witnesses who are cooperating with law enforcement in cases that could harm his interests and praised those who remain silent. His administration’s harsh policies on immigrants and asylum seekers have restricted their rights, belittled our nation’s core ideals, and seriously compromised equal treatment under the law. In October 2018, the president went so far as to claim that he could unilaterally overturn the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship…

The president’s attacks on the judiciary and law enforcement, echoed by media allies, are eroding the public’s trust in the third branch of government and the rule of law. Without that trust, the outright politicization of justice could well ensue, threatening the very stability of our democracy. Any American is free to contest the wisdom of a judge’s ruling, but no one—least of all the president—should challenge the authority of the courts themselves or use threats and incentives to pervert the legal process.

This is followed by chapters on

DEMONIZING THE PRESS

SELF-DEALING AND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

ATTACKING THE LEGITIMACY OF ELECTIONS

THE THREAT TO AMERICAN IDEALS ABROAD

NEITHER DESPAIR NOR COMPLACENCY: Ours is a well-established and resilient democracy, and we can see the effect of its antibodies on the viruses infecting it. The judiciary has repeatedly checked the power of the president, and the press has exposed his actions to public scrutiny. Protests and other forms of civic mobilization against administration policies are large and robust. More people turned out for the midterm elections than in previous years, and there is a growing awareness of the threat that authoritarian practices pose to Americans.

Yet the pressure on our system is as serious as any experienced in living memory. We cannot take for granted that institutional bulwarks against abuse of power will retain their strength, or that our democracy will endure perpetually. Rarely has the need to defend its rules and norms been more urgent. Congress must perform more scrupulous oversight of the administration than it has to date. The courts must continue to resist pressures on their independence. The media must maintain their vigorous reporting even as they defend their constitutional prerogatives. And citizens, including Americans who are typically reluctant to engage in the public square, must be alert to new infringements on their rights and the rule of law, and demand that their elected representatives protect democratic values at home and abroad.

Freedom House will also be watching and speaking out in defense of US democracy. When leaders like Mohammed bin Salman or Victor Orbán take actions that threaten human liberty, it is our mission to document their abuses and condemn them. We must do no less when the threats come from closer to home.

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2019/democracy-in-retreat#.XFmFvnCpQgM.twitter

Committee to Protect Journalists publishes New Risk List: Where Press Freedom is going down

February 8, 2014

The Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] has published its Risk List, indicating where press freedom is in decline. In determining the list, CPJ staff examined six press freedom indicators: fatalities, imprisonments, restrictive legislation, state censorship, impunity in anti-press attacks, and journalists driven into exile. Countries named to the Risk List are not necessarily the world’s worst places for journalists; such a list would include nations like North Korea and Eritrea, where free expression has long been suffocated. Instead, the Risk List identifies the 10 places where CPJ documented the most significant downward trends during 2012. Those trends included:

  • High murder rates and entrenched impunity in Pakistan, Somalia, and Brazil.
  • The use of restrictive laws to silence dissent in Ecuador, Turkey, and Russia.
  • The imprisonment of large numbers of journalists, typically on anti-state charges, to thwart critical reporting in Ethiopia, Turkey, Vietnam, Iran, and Syria.
  • An exceedingly high fatality rate in Syria, where journalists faced multiple risks from all sides in the conflict.

CPJ, which is publishing its Risk List for the first time, identified Syria and Somalia, which are racked by conflict, along with Iran, Vietnam, and Ethiopia, nations that are ruled with an authoritarian grip. But half of the nations on the Risk List– Brazil, Turkey, Pakistan, and Russia, along with Ecuador–practice some form of democracy and exert significant influence on a regional or international stage.

Threats to press freedom were not confined within the borders of these nations. Four Risk List countries sought to undermine international or regional press freedom initiatives during the year. Russia pushed for centralized control of the Internet ahead of the World Conference on International Telecommunications. Ecuador led an effort, supported by Brazil, to weaken the ability of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to intervene in cases of systemic or grave press freedom abuses. Brazil and Pakistan were among a handful of countries that tried to derail a U.N. plan to improve journalist security and combat impunity worldwide.

Setbacks in Brazil are particularly alarming given its status as a regional leader and home to a diverse array of news media. But a spike in journalist murders, a failure to address impunity, and a pattern of judicial censorship have put Brazil’s press freedom at risk, CPJ found. Turkey, too, has projected an image as a regional model for freedom and democracy. But while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has expressed a commitment to press freedom, his administration has wielded an anti-terror law as a club to jail and intimidate journalists.

Less surprising, but no less worrisome are setbacks in Vietnam, Ethiopia, and Iran. Though Ethiopia and Vietnam have been applauded for economic strides, both countries have lagged in terms of openness and freedom of the press. Conditions worsened in 2012, as Ethiopian and Vietnamese authorities ramped up efforts to stifle dissent by imprisoning journalists on anti-state charges. Iran, ignoring international criticism of its press record, has intensified an assault on critical voices that began after the disputed 2009 presidential election.

In Syria and Somalia, where journalists faced risks from multiple sides, the death tolls have mounted. Crossfire was the leading cause of death for journalists in Syria, although at least three journalists were assassinated, CPJ research shows. Both rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have been implicated in acts of violence against the press. All 12 journalists killed in Somalia in 2012, the country’s bloodiest year for the press, were targeted in direct reprisal for their reporting. Both insurgents and government officials were suspected of involvement. In both countries, the ranks of young journalists, many with little training and experience, have been particularly hard hit.

In the full report below you can find capsule reports on the 10 nations named to the CPJ Risk List:

 http://www.cpj.org/2013/02/attacks-on-the-press-cpj-risk-list.php

Iran continues its persecution of Human Rights Defenders: Narges Mohammadi detained

May 3, 2012

Prominent human rights defender Narges Mohammadi was arrested last month. On Wednesday 26 April Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Paris said the group “strongly condemns” her jailing. Narges Mohammadi was a spokeswoman for Ebadi’s now-banned Center for Human Rights Defenders.

She was reportedly detained on Saturday 21 April and brought to Tehran’s Evin prison to begin serving a six-year sentence following a conviction in 2010 after she was accused of anti-government crimes. Mohammadi had remained free pending appeals. Ebadi left Iran after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, which touched off unprecedented protests and harsh crackdowns by authorities. Several of her co-workers have been arrested and harassed, such as Nasrin Sotoudeh, recently announced as a 2012 nominee of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (www.martinennalsaward.org).

For more details on her case see: http://www.iranhumanrights.org/2012/04/narges-arrest/

Reporters Without Borders is concerned by the case because Narges is a journalist and author. In its recently released report on press freedom in 2011, the organisation ranks Iran number 175 outr of 179 countries surveyed. I states inter alia: “It is no surprise that the same trio of countries, Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea, absolute dictatorships that permit no civil liberties, again occupy the last three places in the index. This year, they are immediately preceded at the bottom by Syria, Iran and China, three countries that seem to have lost contact with reality as they have been sucked into an insane spiral of terror, and by Bahrain and Vietnam, quintessential oppressive regimes. Other countries such as Uganda and Belarus have also become much more repressive.”

For the full report go to:

http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2011-2012,1043.html