Report: Global Freedom Declined in 2007
By BARRY SCHWEID
Source: AP Diplomatic Writer
January 15, 2008
Freedom declined in 2007 for a second consecutive year as 36 percent of the people in the world -- about half of them in China -- were not living in freedom, according to a survey by a private democracy watchdog organization.
Nearly four times as many countries showed significant declines during the year as registered improvements, the New York-based Freedom House reported. While the number of countries judged not free declined by two to 43 last year "there were many and overwhelmingly negative changes within countries already designated not free," the survey found.
The number of countries judged free stood at 90, representing 47 percent of the world's 193 countries, and those considered partly free stood at 60, or 31 percent.
Those found not free accounted for nearly 2.4 billion people, about half of them living in China.
Expectations of government concessions on human rights or modest democratic reforms in advance of the 2008 Summer Olympics did not pan out in China, where the regime continued to crack down on political activists, Internet journalists and human rights lawyers, the report said.
Reversals in freedom were seen in one-fifth of the world's countries, including Pakistan, Kenya, Egypt, Nigeria and Venezuela. One country, Mauritania, joined the list of democracies, while three, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Kenya, dropped off it.
Two countries, Thailand and Togo, were upgraded from not free to partly free.
South Asia, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East did particularly poorly, giving "an alarming signal about the development of freedom worldwide, something formerly viewed as inevitable," said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House.
Four stark reminders of the perilous condition of freedom were singled out:
* Parliamentary elections in Russia were held under patently unfair conditions.
* Democracy in Georgia was sullied by imposition of a state of emergency and a violent police crackdown on demonstrators.
* In Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, and terrorism by Islamic extremists rose.
* In Kenya, hundreds were killed in rioting in the wake of "highly credible reports of vote-rigging by the government" in the country's presidential election.
in Russia, political parties and candidates who challenged President Vladimir Putin were sidelined, and the news media, largely controlled by the state and Putin's supporters, gave overwhelming coverage to the president and his allies while the opposition was kept fragmented and tame.
Using its enormous oil and gas resources, Russia exerts influence in former Soviet republics, providing political, moral and material support to authoritarian regimes that dominate Central Asia, the report said.
Three of the countries in the region, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, have consistently ranked among the world's most repressive societies, Freedom House said.
Modest gains in the Middle East, where President Bush focused his hopes for democratic change, came to an end last year, the report said, with major declines in both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli-occupied territories.
The Authority was down-rated from partly free to not free, due to the collapse of a unified government after Hamas took over Gaza. Israel's military incursions, restrictions on delivery of food and violent dispersal of protests led to a decline in civil liberties, Freedom House said.
On the Net: Freedom House