Freedom House’s latest Freedom in the World report paints a bleak picture of democracy and human rights in Africa overall, with 88 percent of the population living in countries designated either Not Free or Partly Free. Nevertheless, there were a number of small victories on the continent during 2013, even in countries where the prevailing trend remains negative.
Turkey has a history of violating internet freedom, and abuses of media freedom in general are rising sharply. But if President Abdullah Gül signs the restrictive internet bill adopted by the parliament last week, he will take the country into uncharted territory.
The recent pressure on civil society and independent media in Kenya is not only a significant threat to democracy in a geopolitically important country, but also the predictable outcome of the international community’s failure to punish earlier, comparable state-driven repression in Ethiopia, another African nation that is viewed in Western capitals as a strategic partner.
This week, Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly approved a new constitution, taking a crucial step forward in the democratic transition that began after the overthrow of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. The constitution has been widely hailed for its guarantees of fundamental human rights and civil liberties, including freedom of conscience, due process, and freedom of worship. But if Tunisian activists had not lobbied vigorously for the last-minute passage of amendments to safeguard media independence, the new constitution might have been received as a major defeat for freedom of the press.
The current peace negotiations on Syria and South Sudan hold out the hope of mitigating and even resolving two of the world’s most destructive civil wars. But the talks are undermined by the glaring absence of women, who account for most of the millions of people displaced by the conflicts and will have an important role to play in any postconflict political process.
In Egypt, the “revolution is coming no matter what,” says Ahmed Hassan, protagonist of the documentary film The Square, which will be released tomorrow. The film tells the interwoven stories of activists who converge on Tahrir Square in early 2011 for the mass protests that brought down President Hosni Mubarak, then carry on the struggle for freedom as the revolution veers off course under an interim military government and the presidency of Mohamed Morsi.