Study: Worldwide freedom on the decline for 8th year in a row

Political rights and civil liberties are on the decline around the world for the eighth year in a row, the U.S. nonprofit Freedom House concludes in its annual Freedom in the World report, released Thursday.

The report found that 54 countries saw declines in political freedom last year, while only 40 saw gains. As a result, some 2.8 billion people — 40 percent of the global total — now live in one of 88 countries deemed “free,” while another 4.3 billion live in one of 107 nations deemed “partly free” or “not free.”

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“Particularly notable were developments in Egypt, which endured across-the-board reversals in its democratic institutions following a military coup,” Freedom House says in the 41st edition of its report, which it touts as the “oldest and most authoritative report of democracy and human rights” around the world. “There were also serious setbacks to democratic rights in other large, politically influential countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Venezuela, and Indonesia.”

Notable developments over the past year included what the group calls the growth of “modern authoritarianism,” whereby officials resort to “crippling their political opposition without annihilating it, and flouting the rule of law while maintaining a veneer of order, legitimacy, and prosperity.” A key element of this new type of authoritarianism is its concerted effort to dominate “not only the executive and legislative branches, but also the media, judiciary, civil society, economy, and security forces.”

Positive signs include an improvement in civil liberties in Tunisia, which Freedom House deems “the most promising of the Arab Spring countries;” a civilian transfer of power in Pakistan, one of four countries — along with Honduras, Kenya and Nepal — added to the list of electoral democracies; and gains in the African nations of Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Madagascar, Rwanda, Togo and Zimbabwe.

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