For the fourth consecutive year, global declines in freedom outweighed gains in 2009, as measured by Freedom House's annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World 2010. This represents the longest continuous period of decline for global freedom in the nearly 40-year history of the report.
In a year marked by intensified repression against human rights defenders and civic activists, declines for freedom were registered in 40 countries in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union, representing 20 percent of the world's total polities. Authoritarian states including Iran, Russia, Venezuela, and Vietnam became more repressive. Declines in freedom also occurred in countries that had registered positive trends in previous years, including Bahrain, Jordan, Kenya, and Kyrgyzstan.
"The news for 2009 is cause for real concern," said Arch Puddington, Freedom House Director of Research. "The decline is global, affects countries with military and economic power, affects countries that had previously shown signs of reform potential, and is accompanied by enhanced persecution of political dissidents and independent journalists. To make matters worse, the most powerful authoritarian regimes have become more repressive, more influential in the international arena, and more uncompromising."
Published since 1972, Freedom in the World examines the ability of individuals to exercise their political and civil rights in 194 countries and 14 territories around the world. The survey analyzes developments that occurred in 2009 and assigns each country a freedom status-Free, Partly Free, or Not Free-based on a scoring of performance on key indicators.
In this year's findings, five countries moved into Not Free status, and the number of electoral democracies declined to the lowest level since 1995. Sixteen countries made notable gains, with two countries improving their overall freedom status. The most significant improvements in 2009 occurred in Asia.
The Middle East remained the most repressive region in the world, and some countries that had previously moved forward slipped back from Partly Free into the Not Free category. Africa suffered the most significant declines, and four countries experienced coups.
This year's findings reflect the growing pressures on journalists and new media, restrictions on freedom of association, and repression aimed at civic activists engaged in promoting political reform and respect for human rights.
"In 2009, we saw a disturbing erosion of some of the most fundamental freedoms-freedom of expression and association-and an increase in attacks on frontline activists in these areas," said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House. "From the brutal repression on the streets of Iran, to the sweeping detention of Charter 08 members in China and murders of journalists and human rights activists in Russia, we have seen a worldwide crackdown against individuals asserting their universally accepted rights over the last five years."
Key global findings include:
Free: The number of countries designated by Freedom in the World as Free in 2009 stands at 89, representing 46 percent of the world's 194 countries and 46 percent of the world population.
Partly Free: The number of Partly Free countries declined to 58, or 30 percent of all countries assessed by the survey, comprising 20 percent of the world's total population.
Not Free: The number of countries deemed to be Not Free increased to 47, or 24 percent of the total number of countries. Over 2.3 billion people live in societies where fundamental political rights and civil liberties are not respected. China accounts for half of this number.
Electoral Democracies: The number of electoral democracies dropped by three and stands at 116. Developments in four countries-Honduras, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Niger-disqualified them from the electoral democracy list, while conditions in the Maldives improved enough for it to be added.
Worst of the Worst: Of the 47 countries ranked Not Free, nine countries and one territory received the survey's lowest possible rating for both political rights and civil liberties: Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Tibet, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Eritrea was downgraded to this level in the past year.
Key regional findings include:
Sub-Saharan Africa: Declines were seen in Botswana and Lesotho, with the latter declining from Free to Partly Free. In addition, declines were noted in Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Guinea, Madagascar, and Niger, and in two of the region's most repressive regimes, Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Improvements were noted in Malawi, Burundi, Togo, and Zimbabwe.
Asia: Successful democratic elections were held in India, Indonesia, and Japan. Improvements were also noted in Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Mongolia. Declines were documented in Afghanistan after a deeply flawed presidential poll, and in the Philippines after the massacre of civilians and members of the press and the subsequent declaration of martial law.
Former Soviet Union/Central and Eastern Europe: Improvements were seen throughout the Balkans, with Kosovo moving from Not Free to Partly Free after its recent elections and Montenegro moving up to the Free category. By contrast, virtually all of the countries in the non-Baltic former Soviet Union continued to pursue a repressive course, including Russia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, which was downgraded from Partly Free to Not Free.
Middle East and North Africa: Repression in Iran led to score declines, and other countries in the region suffered a number of setbacks. Jordan, Bahrain, and Yemen were all downgraded from Partly Free to Not Free. Declines were also noted in Morocco and the Palestinian Territories. Lebanon and Iraq registered improvements.
Americas: Latin America experienced significant setbacks in 2009, particularly in Central America. Honduras lost its status as an electoral democracy due to a coup, and Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Venezuela also registered declines.
Western Europe and North America: A notable challenge faced by the Obama administration in the United States has been balancing security concerns with the promised rollback of controversial antiterrorism policies dating to the Bush administration. Western Europe has struggled to deal with the influx of immigrants from Muslim countries and the rise of anti-immigration policies, which contributed to declines in Switzerland and Malta.
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.
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