According to the Freedom House, global freedom continues its decline

In its annual report on freedom in the world, think tank Freedom House reminds us that despite a continuous decrease in freedom in the world in 2023, the demand for freedom remains universal.

According to the report, while the overall level of freedom in the world continues to decline, with 35 countries declining in their level of freedom, the decline itself has decreased in 34 countries. This can be explained mainly by the end of restrictions linked to Covid-19, and the holding of truly free and competitive elections in certain countries such as Lesotho, Colombia and Kenya, where international observers were keen to highlight the good conduct of the poll. Nevertheless, the outbreak of wars, such as Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine, or attempted coups, jeopardise progress towards greater democracy. Freedom House points out that the most worrying indicator of the decline in global freedom is the decline in freedom of expression.

Attacks on democracy by authoritarian states continue

The war in Ukraine is the most prominent example of dictatorial Russia's ongoing assault on democratic states, with the invasion clearly aimed at destroying the democratic construct of its neighbour. This invasion is accompanied by cultural, sexual, and physical violence on the part of Russia, including the forced removal of Ukrainian children to Russia for acculturation. Authoritarian states are always accompanied by very high human costs, the 2023 report underlines. In Myanmar, for example, the military junta that took power in a coup in 2021 is implementing a policy of ethnic repression, causing the deaths of thousands of people and the displacement of at least 1 million victims of the regime. In Europe and America, illiberal regimes are on the rise, as in the crackdown on opposition groups by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, or the assault on Brazilian political and legal institutions by supporters of former Brazilian President Bolsonaro after Lula's victory. 

Freedom House points out that governments not controlled by society or counter-powers can quickly descend into the worst excesses. For example, since the Taliban took over power, women in Afghanistan have been excluded from the school system since secondary school, and demonstrations are severely repressed. Nevertheless, it is in China, where the level of freedom is one of the lowest in the world, that the excesses can be the most numerous, such as the zero COVID policy, which has had disastrous human and health effects, or the systematic deportation of the Uighur minority to camps.

Free expression: A leading indicator of democratic decline

The report highlights the significant decline in freedom of expression around the world over the past 17 years. The number of countries scoring 0 out of 4 in terms of personal freedom of expression has risen from six to 15 since 2005. This is linked to the rise of illiberal states, but also to the spread of new technologies and the dependence on the internet, which favours the collection of data on people and allows for surveillance of their activities or even their political opinions. 
Thus, the report underlines that freedom of the press, as well as individual freedom of expression, tend to decrease in our contemporary world. The press can be subjected to criminal trials, extra-judicial violence against journalists, the adoption of laws against media independence, or censorship. In Haiti, for example, journalists have been murdered by gangs or detained by the police in the course of their work. 

Freedom House highlights that restrictions on freedom of speech are threat to democracy:  a threat to intermediary bodies, or journalists who provide transparency and disclosure. It cuts people off from each other, and allows the safeguarding of authoritarian power, the repression of freedom movements, and can foster violence between ethnic, sexual, cultural or religious groups.

2023: a turning point in the history of freedom? 

On the occasion of the organisation's fiftieth report, Freedom House looks back at the lessons of the past and points out that the year 2023 could be a turning point in the history of global freedom. While the attacks on democracy remain numerous, there are still grounds for optimism. The report points to the immediate and united reaction of most Western democracies in condemning the Russian aggression in Ukraine and sending military aid.  More importantly, Vladimir Putin's highly effective army has been pushed back by the Ukrainian army for a year now.

According to the report, democracy has proven to be the most effective political regime for safeguarding human freedom and respect for human rights: "Popular self-government through credible, competitive, free, and fair elections continues to be the hallmark of democracy and a guarantee of its associated benefits. As the organisation points out, the quest for freedom is an immemorial and universal value: "So long as human beings remain true to their natural yearning for liberty, authoritarians will never be secure, and the global movement for democracy will never be defeated. This is why, according to them, protests against authoritarian regimes will always take place. According to the report, the year 2023 is a turning point because the forces of freedom have risen. It points in particular to the massive feminist protests in Iran that erupted after the death in custody of the young activist Jina Mahsa Amini. While these protests have been accompanied by hundreds of deaths in the streets, summary executions and arrests, the movement is still not fully suppressed.

But to enable democracy and freedom to spread across the globe, Freedom House stresses the need for transnational solidarity. Thus, they develop five policy recommendations to address the decline of freedom:

  • Ukraine must be allowed to win the war by providing all possible assistance, financial, military and moral.
  • Stop enabling authoritarians, by no longer remaining silent in front of dictatorships, or legitimising them, and by reducing dependence on their resources.
  • Democratic virtues should also be promoted even more clearly, and international efforts should be made to spread the model and defend democracy.
  • It also stresses, as we have seen before, the need to better protect freedom of expression around the world.
  • Finally, the report stresses that it is of utmost necessity to drastically increase aid for human rights defenders, dissidents, and all those who fight for freedom and democracy.

According to the Freedom House, Estonia is one of the freest countries in the world, with a score of 94/100. It is exactly the same as the year before. If democratic values and freedom seem to be very well implemented in Estonia, the few points where the country loses points is integration of all minorities in the political system. The previous report noticed that stateless inhabitants of Estonia may have struggle to participate fully the political life, and that Russian speakers face societal discriminations. Also, the ascent as one of the most popular parties of Estonia of the alt-right party EKRE, and its hostility to LGBTQI+ community, Muslims, and Jewish communities, has been the reason of points losses for Estonia.

Read more about the report here: