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Defending Democracy in Exile: Understanding and Responding to Transnational Repression

June 1, 2022

Over the past year, governments around the world have engaged in increasingly brazen attempts to stifle dissent by attacking critics who live abroad. Belarusian authorities forced an international airliner to land so they could detain a journalist who was on board. Iranian agents conspired to kidnap a women's rights activist from her home in Brooklyn. Turkish intelligence officers abducted the nephew of a political figure from outside a police station in Nairobi. These audacious acts of transnational repression, in which governments reach across national borders to silence opposition among diaspora and exile communities, demonstrated a dangerous disregard for international law, democratic norms, and state sovereignty.Despite growing awareness of the problem, transnational repression remains a global threat to human rights and democratic values because few tools exist to protect its intended targets. People who are brave enough to stand up to autocrats can feel abandoned. As one human rights defender described it, "If I'm being honest with you, we're really alone in this." While autocrats in origin states work together to threaten them, exile and diaspora communities must contend with unprepared immigration and security agencies in host countries. They are named in abusive Interpol notices, experience reprisals for interacting with UN agencies, and must withstand sophisticated digital campaigns designed to surveil and harass them.The tactics of transnational repression are powerful because they have evolved to take advantage of the connection and openness brought by globalization. Perpetrator states have turned institutions and practices of host governments, international partnerships, and communication technologies against the vulnerable people they shelter.This report, the second in a series by Freedom House on transnational repression, examines the ways in which nondemocratic governments are pursuing their critics abroad, what governments that host exiles and diasporas can do to protect individuals targeted by foreign states, and where gaps in existing safeguards remain.

Nations in Transit 2022: From Democratic Decline to Authoritarian Aggression

April 15, 2022

On February 24, Russian president Vladimir Putin launched a brutal invasion of Ukraine. This war, which has already displaced millions of people and menaced the lives of millions more, presents an existential challenge not just to Ukraine's sovereignty, but also to the liberal international order. It comes at the time when liberal democracy's star has faded across the 29 countries covered in Nations in Transit. This edition of the report, assessing the events of 2021 from Central Europe to Central Asia, marks the 18th consecutive year of democratic decline for the region as a whole.Putin's war is the latest and gravest expression of his thuggish and malignant influence on neighboring states. When free societies have resisted his efforts to warp their media and corrupt their politicians, he has threatened or actually used military force, as in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. When authoritarian incumbents have teetered in the face of popular demands for change, he has backstopped their regimes and deepened their dependence on Moscow, as in Belarus or more recently in Kazakhstan. But the stakes of the current conflict are even higher. If the Kremlin succeeds in subjugating a sovereign, democratic Ukraine, it will mark the first time that an authoritarian power has overthrown a freely elected national government in the region since the end of the Cold War. Even if the effort fails, it has already destabilized the Nations in Transit region, potentially accelerating the steady antidemocratic transformation that has taken place across Europe and Eurasia.

Freedom in the World 2022: The Global Expansion of Authoritarian Rule

February 17, 2022

Freedom in the World 2022 evaluates the state of freedom in 195 countries and 15 territories during calendar year 2021. Each country and territory is assigned between 0 and 4 points on a series of 25 indicators, for an aggregate score of up to 100. The indicators are grouped into the categories of political rights (0–40) and civil liberties (0–60), whose totals are weighted equally to determine whether the country or territory has an overall status of Free, Partly Free, or Not Free.The methodology, which is derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is applied to all countries and territories, irrespective of geographic location, ethnic or religious composition, or level of economic development.Freedom in the World assesses the real-world rights and freedoms enjoyed by individuals, rather than governments or government performance per se. Political rights and civil liberties can be affected by both state and nonstate actors, including insurgents and other armed groups.

Defending Latin American Human Rights and Democracy Activists

January 26, 2022

This assessment builds on existing bodies of literature, interviews with key informants and stakeholders, two case studies, and Freedom House experiences to better understand the nature of the defense and protection of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and pro-democracy Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Latin America.The study undertakes an institutional and organizational landscape analysis to: determine which entities, organizations and individuals are involved in the protection and defense of HRDs and CSOs (with a particular focus on relocation); identify strategies and approaches to support the defense and protection of HRDs and CSOs within their countries and in exile; analyze the gaps and challenges of existing approaches; and develop recommendations to strengthen the protection and defense of HRDs in Latin America.Given time and resource limitations, the assessment was relatively narrow in its scope. As such, it is not intended to be an impact or capacity assessment; much less, an evaluation of specific programs and/or initiatives. Rather, it describes HRD protection systems in Latin America, highlights opportunities for future HRD activities and major areas that merit further regional and national attention, and HRD protection systems in Latin America. The assessment also highlights opportunities and offers strategic recommendations.

Freedom on the Net 2021: The Global Drive to Control Big Tech

September 16, 2021

In the high-stakes battle between states and technology companies, the rights of internet users have become the main casualties. A growing number of governments are asserting their authority over tech firms, often forcing the businesses to comply with online censorship and surveillance. These developments have contributed to an unprecedented assault on free expression online, causing global internet freedom to decline for an 11th consecutive year.Global norms have shifted dramatically toward greater government intervention in the digital sphere. Of the 70 states covered by this report, a total of 48 pursued legal or administrative action against technology companies. While some moves reflected legitimate attempts to mitigate online harms, rein in misuse of data, or end manipulative market practices, many new laws imposed excessively broad censorship and data-collection requirements on the private sector. Users' online activities are now more pervasively moderated and monitored by companies through processes that lack the safeguards featured in democratic governance, such as transparency, judicial oversight, and public accountability.The drive toward national regulation has emerged partly due to a failure to address online harms through self-regulation. The United States played a leading role in shaping early internet norms around free speech and free markets, but its laissez-faire approach to the tech industry created opportunities for authoritarian manipulation, data exploitation, and widespread malfeasance. In the absence of a shared global vision for a free and open internet, governments are adopting their own approaches to policing the digital sphere. Policymakers in many countries have cited a vague need to retake control of the internet from foreign powers, multinational corporations, and in some cases, civil society.This shift in power from companies to states has come amid a record-breaking crackdown on freedom of expression online. In 56 countries, officials arrested or convicted people for their online speech. Governments suspended internet access in at least 20 countries, and 21 states blocked access to social media platforms, most often during times of political turmoil such as protests and elections. As digital repression intensifies and expands to more countries, users understandably lack confidence that government initiatives to regulate the internet will lead to greater protection of their rights.

Reversing the Tide: Towards a New US Strategy to Support Democracy and Counter Authoritarianism

April 14, 2021

The rise of authoritarianism, coupled with the erosion of democracy, threatens global stability, America's economic and security alliances, and respect for human dignity. In each of the last 15 consecutive years, abuses of human rights and assaults on core democratic institutions and practices have accelerated around the globe.1 This alarming confluence requires an urgent, bold, generational response that places support for democracy and countering authoritarianism at the heart of our foreign policy and national security strategy. US leadership in defending established democracies, supporting nascent democracies, and challenging autocrats—while putting our own house in better order—will necessitate a reordering of priorities, plans, and budgets. This report is both a call to action for US leadership and a roadmap for a practical, bipartisan path forward, providing suggesting seven strategies on how to support democracy and counter authoritarianism.

From Crisis to Reform: A Call to Strengthen America's Battered Democracy

March 22, 2021

This special report discusses three flaws that threaten to weaken democracy in the United States: the unequal treatment of people of color, the mounting issue of partisan polarization, and the improper influence of money in politics. The report examines how each of these factors threatens democracy in America and outlines recommendations for addressing these weaknesses, including reducing barriers to voting, establishing independent redistricting commissions, and closing loopholes in campaign finance laws. 

Freedom in the World 2021: Democracy under Siege

March 1, 2021

Freedom in the World 2021 evaluates the state of freedom in 195 countries and 15 territories during calendar year 2020. Each country and territory is assigned between 0 and 4 points on a series of 25 indicators, for an aggregate score of up to 100. The indicators are grouped into the categories of political rights (0–40) and civil liberties (0–60), whose totals are weighted equally to determine whether the country or territory has an overall status of Free, Partly Free, or Not Free.The methodology, which is derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is applied to all countries and territories, irrespective of geographic location, ethnic or religious composition, or level of economic development. Freedom in the World assesses the real-world rights and freedoms enjoyed by individuals, rather than governments or government performance per se. Political rights and civil liberties can be affected by both state and nonstate actors, including insurgents and other armed groups.

Freedom on the Net 2015: Privatizing Censorship, Eroding Privacy (Summary)

October 1, 2015

Internet freedom around the world has declined for the fifth consecutive year, with more governments censoring information of public interest and placing greater demands on the private sector to take down offending content.This booklet is a summary of findings for the 2015 edition of "Freedom on the Net."

Freedom on the Net 2014 - Tightening the Net: Governments Expand Online Controls (Summary)

October 1, 2014

Internet freedom around the world has declined for the fourth consecutive year, with a growing number of countries introducing online censorship and monitoring practices that are simultaneously more aggressive and more sophisticated in their targeting of individual users. This booklet is a summary of findings for the 2014 edition of "Freedom on the Net."

Nations in Transit 2014

June 12, 2014

This is the the 18th edition of Freedom House's comprehensive report on post-communist democratic governance -- highlights recent setbacks to democracy across Eurasia and the Balkans, as well as in Central Europe. Russia served as the model and inspiration for policies that have led to an uninterrupted retreat from free institutions throughout Eurasia and in 2013 brought a new and alarming level of repression. In Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and several other countries, civil society responded with remarkable resistance to repressive governance. The year also featured improved elections and peaceful transfers of power in Kosovo, Albania, and Georgia.

Freedom of the Press 2014

May 1, 2014

Global press freedom fell to its lowest level in over a decade in 2013, as hopes raised by the Arab Spring were further dashed by major regression in Egypt, Libya, and Jordan, and marked setbacks also occurred in Turkey, Ukraine, and a number of countries in East Africa. In another key development, media freedom in the United States deteriorated due primarily to attempts by the government to inhibit reporting on national security issues.Meanwhile, as a result of declines in democratic settings over the past several years, the share of the world's population that enjoys a Free press remained at 14 percent, meaning only one in seven people live in countries where coverage of political news is robust, the safety of journalists is guaranteed, state intrusion in media affairs is minimal, and the press is not subject to onerous legal or economic pressures.These are the most significant findings of this report, the latest edition of an annual report published by Freedom House since 1980. While there were positive developments in a number of countries, most notably in sub-Saharan Africa, the dominant trends were reflected in setbacks in a range of settings.The year's declines were driven by the desire of governments -- particularly in authoritarian states or polarized political environments -- to control news content, whether through the physical harassment of journalists covering protest movements or other sensitive news stories; restrictions on foreign reporters; or tightened constraints on online news outlets and social media. In addition, press freedom in a number of countries was threatened by private owners -- especially those with close connections to governments or ruling parties -- who altered editorial lines or dismissed key staff after acquiring previously independent outlets.These factors were behind the majority of the status downgrades for 2013, including the shifts from Partly Free to Not Free in Libya, South Sudan, Turkey, Ukraine, and Zambia. Significant declines also occurred in the Central African Republic, Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Kenya, Montenegro, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda.Separately, influential authoritarian powers such as China and Russia continued to maintain a tight grip on locally based print and broadcast media, while also attempting to control the more independent views provided either in the blogosphere or by foreign news sources. Both countries introduced additional legal measures to penalize online speech in 2013. And while China focused on suppressing dissent on popular microblogging services and obstructing the foreign press, the Russian government closed RIA Novosti, a long-established news service, replacing it with an organization more openly under direct Kremlin control. Conditions in Eurasia remain bleak, with 97 percent of the region's population living in Not Free media environments.Even more open media environments are not immune to pressure on press freedom. The year featured the most significant decline of the past decade in one of the world's largest democracies, the United States, due to government attempts to control official information flows, particularly concerning national security -- related issues; the legal harassment of journalists with regard to protection of sources; and revelations of surveillance that included both the bulk collection of communications data by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the targeted wiretapping of media outlets. Disclosures that surveillance was being conducted by a range of governments -- many of them democratic -- against ordinary citizens as well as key political figures intensified concerns on a global level about the ability of journalists and others who gather and disseminate news and information to protect sources and maintain their digital privacy.