According to the organization’s annual report, the share of non-free countries worldwide has reached its highest level since 2006.
The level of freedom in the world is declining for the 15th year in a row, said the human rights organization Freedom House in its annual report “Freedom in the world-2021.”
According to Freedom House experts, governments’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the global decline of democracy: repressive regimes and populist leaders have reduced transparency, disseminated false or misleading information, and curbed the dissemination of unfavorable data or critical views. Many of those who have criticized the Government’s response to the pandemic have been harassed. Quarantine measures were sometimes excessive or politicized, and the security services reacted too harshly to their non-compliance. “Anti-democratic leaders around the world have used the pandemic as a cover to weaken political opposition and consolidate their power,” human rights activists say, warning that many of the negative effects of this year will persist for a long time.
The authors of the report note the deterioration of the situation in the United States, whose rating has declined by 11 points over the past decade and by 3 points in 2020. The organization attributes this to some factors, including the recent riots in the Capitol and police brutality and bloody clashes during mass protests that swept the country last year.
The sharpest deterioration over the past year was recorded in Kyrgyzstan, which was recognized as a “non-free” state due to a decrease of 11 points. The authors of the report attribute this to the “openly rigged” parliamentary elections, which resulted in Sadyr Zhaparov coming to power. He initiated a constitutional reform “that could reshape Kyrgyzstan’s political system along the lines of its authoritarian neighbors,” human rights activists say.
The second-largest decline occurred in Belarus, which lost 8 points because the security forces “tried to suppress anti-government demonstrations caused by the rigged re-election of Alexander Lukashenko.”
“In Russia, President Vladimir Putin won the right to remain in power until 2036 due to a rigged referendum, the official result of which showed 78 percent of the vote in support of the changes,” the report says.
“The relatively free but flawed parliamentary elections in Georgia have exacerbated the political crisis in the country, and the second round of voting was boycotted by the opposition,” human rights activists say.
In Ukraine, according to the authors of the report, the reform program pursued by President Vladimir Zelensky has faced obstacles in the face of a pandemic and corruption, which has led to a constitutional crisis.
Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan has made some progress in his reformist efforts. Still, support for his government has waned amid the defeat in the war with Azerbaijan, which led to the mass flight of ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh and indirectly jeopardized Armenia’s recent democratic achievements, Freedom House says.
Among the examples of the negative consequences of the pandemic, the authors of the report name the Donbas in Ukraine and South Ossetia in Georgia, where the separatist authorities have blocked humanitarian corridors.
At the same time, the organization notes that, despite the numerous losses in 2020, “people around the world remain committed to fighting for their rights, and democracy continues to demonstrate its remarkable resilience.”
“Our report concludes that democracy today is besieged but not defeated,” said Freedom House President Michael J. Abramowitz. “Its opponents have grown stronger, making the world a more hostile environment for self-government, but its enduring appeal to ordinary people, exemplified this year in countries like Russia and Myanmar, holds good promise for the future of freedom.”