News outlets and publishers call for release of all jailed reporters amid increasing threat during COVID-19 pandemic.
Nearly 75 percent of the world’s population lived in a place that saw a decline in rights and freedoms in 2020, a United States-based think tank said in a new report, detailing the 15th consecutive year of shrinking global liberties.
While 28 countries saw an improvement last year, declines in freedom were recorded in 73 others, according to Freedom House’s annual “Freedom in the World” report, released on Wednesday.
The group, based in Washington, DC, ranked 151 countries and 45 territories as either free, partly free or not free based on criteria that included electoral processes, political pluralism, government corruption, and freedom of expression and assembly, among others.
“In 2020 it was struggling democracies and authoritarian states that accounted for more of the global decline. The proportion of Not Free countries is now the highest it has been in the past 15 years,” the organisation said.
“These withering blows marked the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom … The long democratic recession is deepening.”
India went from free to partly free in 2020, as Freedom House accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party of cracking down on critics, scapegoating Muslims and “tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism”.
“With India’s decline to Partly Free, less than 20 percent of the world’s population now lives in a Free country, the smallest proportion since 1995,” the report reads.
Freedom House also said governments have used the COVID-19 pandemic “to consolidate power and suppress dissent”.
It pointed to Algeria, where it said the state used coronavirus-related lockdown measures to suppress a protest movement, and to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who “exploited the pandemic to amass emergency powers and deter independent reporting and criticism”.
The US has also seen an 11-point decline in freedom since 2020, the report found, making it one of the 25 countries to suffer the steepest drops over the 10-year period.
Freedom House said a deadly insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, spurred by former President Donald Trump and carried out by a mob of his supporters, “threw the country into even greater crisis” after years of declining freedoms.
“The politically distorted health recommendations, partisan infighting, shockingly high and racially disparate coronavirus death rates, and police violence against protesters advocating for racial justice over the summer all underscored the United States’ systemic dysfunctions and made American democracy appear fundamentally unstable,” the report reads.
The group also criticised China for exerting “malign influence” in 2020, including a crackdown on liberties in Hong Kong resulting from a national security law.
Despite its generally grim findings, Freedom House said democracy is resilient and countries can rebound.
It pointed to Malawi, where democratic progress was made, and to Taiwan, which “largely respected civil liberties” in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, as nations that overcame challenges in 2020.