The 50th edition of Freedom in the World also finds that attacks on freedom of expression have been a key driver of democratic erosion.
Global freedom declined for a 17th consecutive year in 2022 as 35 countries suffered deterioration in their political rights and civil liberties, according to a new report released today by Freedom House. A total of 34 countries made improvements during the year, however, meaning the gap between the numbers of countries that improved and declined was the narrowest it has ever been since the negative pattern began. The report suggests that the struggle for democracy may be approaching a turning point, and offers recommendations on how democratic governments and societies should work together to roll back authoritarian gains.
The new report—Freedom in the World 2023: Marking 50 Years in the Struggle for Democracy—is the 50th edition of Freedom House’s annual global assessment of political rights and civil liberties. Moscow’s war of aggression in Ukraine, as well as coups and other attacks on democratic institutions in Brazil, Burkina Faso, Peru, and Tunisia, contributed to the overall decline in 2022. Positive developments included competitive elections in Latin America and Africa and the reversal of COVID-19-related restrictions in eight countries that had disproportionately infringed on the freedoms of assembly and movement. As of today, 39 percent of the world’s people live in countries rated Not Free, while only 20 percent live in Free countries.
“The struggle for freedom endures across generations,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “For 50 years, Freedom in the World has tracked the health of political rights and civil liberties around the globe. This latest edition documents a continuation of troubling trends, but it also gives some reason to hope that the freedom recession of the past 17 years may be turning a corner. There is nothing inevitable about authoritarian expansion. While authoritarian regimes remain extremely dangerous, they are not unbeatable. The year’s events showed that missteps by autocrats provide openings for democratic forces. And over the course of five decades, people from every region of the world have repeatedly challenged oppression and demanded freedom, even in the face of daunting odds and at great personal risk.”
The report finds that one of the biggest drivers of democratic decline over the last 17 years has been a trend of attacks on freedom of expression. The number of countries and territories that receive a score of 0 out of 4 on the report’s media freedom indicator has increased from 14 to 33 since 2005. Media freedom came under pressure in at least 157 countries and territories during 2022. Beyond the news media, individuals’ right to personal expression has also come under assault. Fifteen countries and territories now have a score of 0 out of 4 on that indicator, up from six in 2005. People in such environments have virtually no freedom to voice antigovernment opinions, even in private, without fear of reprisal.
“Freedom of expression is under attack around the globe,” said Yana Gorokhovskaia, the report’s coauthor and Freedom House’s research director for strategy and design. “Denying press freedom and the freedom of personal expression cuts citizens off from accurate information and from one another, strengthening authoritarian control. Democracies must fiercely guard these rights at home and vigorously work to defend them abroad, in part by supporting public-interest media and journalists who have been forced into exile. They should also strictly regulate the use of surveillance tools and protect robust encryption technology, which is vital for the safety of activists, journalists, and ordinary users everywhere.”
Freedom in the World includes scores and narrative assessments on political rights and civil liberties for 195 countries and 15 territories around the globe. This report, the 50th annual edition, covers developments in 2022 and provides a brief analysis of long-term trends. The report’s methodology is derived in large measure from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948.
The report identifies a number of steps that democratic governments can take to protect and expand political rights and civil liberties. The recommendations include:
Freedom House is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to create a world where all are free. We inform the world about threats to freedom, mobilize global action, and support democracy’s defenders.
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