Freedom under assault across the globe
By Daniel Calingaert
The use of chemical weapons in Syria and brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which has claimed more than 1,000 lives, are deeply disturbing events, yet they are just the most glaring examples of a widespread assault on freedom taking place in countries around the world. At times this assault grabs news headlines, as when Russia’s law against “homosexual propaganda” prompted international criticism or a prominent dissident is put on trial. More often, savvy autocrats misuse laws and administrative procedures to subtly restrict civil society groups and silence their critics.
There are plenty of examples. A crackdown on civil society in Azerbaijan has intensified in the lead-up to presidential elections there next month. Authorities have broken up peaceful demonstrations, increased almost 100-fold the fines for involvement in unsanctioned protests, arrested youth activists and journalists, and prosecuted critics on trumped-up criminal charges, such as narcotics possession.
Uganda’s parliament passed a Public Order Management Bill that requires police approval for any gathering of more than three people where anything of a political nature is discussed and authorizes police to use deadly force against protestors who resist arrest. In Bangladesh, meanwhile, security forces have killed an estimated 150 protestors since January and detained the prominent human rights defender Adilur Rahman Khan, who was documenting the cases of 61 people allegedly killed by security forces in May 2013.
Beyond the headlines, new measures and existing laws are being misused to stifle the creation, operations, and funding of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in dozens of countries. These laws are meant to provide some semblance of legitimacy to the efforts of authoritarian rulers to stop independent groups of citizens from protesting environmental degradation, exposing corruption, encouraging participation in elections, or otherwise trying to improve society and hold the government to account.
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.