Freedom at Issue:

Insights on the global struggle for democracy

December 2012

As 2012 winds down, it is time again to reflect on the year’s human rights developments. Unfortunately, the bad seemed to outweigh the good this year, as many authoritarians held on to power and continued upheaval in the Middle East threatened to derail any democratic progress.

Nate Schenkkan

On December 16, 2011, police in riot gear accompanied by plainclothes officers swept into the western Kazakh city of Zhanaozen to put down a protest by striking oil workers that had turned to rioting. At least a dozen protesters were shot dead. Dozens more were wounded. One protester was killed by police in a nearby town, and another died after being tortured in the investigation that followed. In the aftermath, it was clear that the incident would test Kazakhstan’s commitment to impartial justice and free speech. Unfortunately, the government’s response has been a classic authoritarian crackdown.

Arch Puddington

A blue-chip Washington law firm recently issued a report on the trial of former Ukrainian prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko that will almost certainly lead to more confusion than clarity.

By: Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, Guest Blogger

Last month, North Korea claimed preposterously to have discovered a “unicorn lair” in an ancient burial site. This month, there are deadly-serious reports of a successful missile launch. And so the world lurches again from laughing at North Korea’s curious totalitarian theme park and wacky dictator, to wondering with concern whether this leader, like the capricious child with superhuman powers in the science-fiction story “It’s a Good Life,” will destroy the world.

Before autocratic regimes fully grasped the democratic nature of the internet, netizens basked in the sunshine of global intercommunication. But in a backlash against digitally driven uprisings, such as those of the Arab Spring, tyrants are now maneuvering to bring users’ online and mobile activities under the shadow of outdated and arbitrary legal restrictions. One sign of this crackdown is the alarming number of digital activists behind bars around the world.

This week and next, 193 governments are gathering in Dubai to consider putting the internet under a new regulatory structure that could fundamentally change the way the web works, with dire consequences for global internet freedom.

December 7 will mark the death of press freedom in Argentina, if the country’s largest media conglomerate, Grupo Clarín, is to be believed. That date is the deadline by which Clarín must divest many of its assets or see them forcibly auctioned off in accordance with a 2009 media law. As in much of Latin America, Argentine media are controlled by a relatively small collection of private owners, and the law aimed to open the media landscape to a greater diversity of voices by limiting the number of licenses a single company can hold. However, Grupo Clarín and free speech advocates have argued that the government-backed legislation violates property rights and threatens freedom of the press. Given the contentious relationship between Clarín and the government, the group insists it is being unfairly targeted for political reasons.