When news broke last month that Swedish telecommunications company TeliaSonera had collaborated with Eurasian dictatorships, it should have come as no surprise. The firm reportedly gave the security services of Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Uzbekistan complete access to their countries' telecom systems, thereby facilitating intercepts of telephone calls and text messages. This collaboration, sadly, fits a pattern.
I was supposed to be in Bahrain this past weekend to lead an international freedom of expression mission with representatives of several prominent advocacy groups, including the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, the Committee to Protect Journalists, PEN International, Index on Censorship, and Reporters Without Borders. However, after approving our mission in early April, and even offering to arrange meetings with relevant officials, Bahrain’s Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development decided to deny permission for the joint mission just days before we were to depart, meaning our organizations had already incurred travel and other expenses. The letter we received cited “new guidelines” that prohibit more than one organization from visiting at a time, and assured us that this was “merely an organizational matter.” But given that this is the second time this year that Freedom House has been denied entry to Bahrain, the ministry’s explanation seems rather dubious.
Nancy Okail, director of Freedom House’s Egypt office in Cairo, is one of dozens of activists being prosecuted by the Egyptian authorities as part of a crackdown on independent civil society groups in the country. Click here to see an interview with Okail about the implications of the NGO trial for Egypt's political transition.
Hungary’s descent into the Partly Free category in Freedom House’s just-released annual assessment of global media independence should set off alarms for those who believed the country’s press freedom was firmly established.
For much of the past decade, global press freedom has been in retreat. This may seem counterintuitive in an era marked by the constant development and refinement of new communication technologies. Yet even as the internet, blogs, microblogs, mobile-telephone videos, and other forms of new media are reshaping the information landscape, governments are finding new and more sophisticated ways to control news coverage and manipulate political discourse.
Paula Schriefer, Freedom House’s vice president for global programs, recently addressed a gathering of colleagues as she prepared to bring her 18-year career with the organization to a close. Read an adaptation of her remarks.
Côte d’Ivoire was once a promising model of economic prosperity and stability for West Africa, but in the last decade alone it has fallen prey to two civil wars, untold human misery, and large-scale impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations. The complex problems currently besetting the country are linked to the failure of its leaders to both commit to and successfully foster genuine democratic principles and practices.
Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argued in a New York Times opinion piece yesterday that the United States and Europe must learn to share the world with multiple “new forms of governance and capitalism,” and recognize that “the era of Western primacy” is coming to an end. It is certainly correct that “non-Western” developing nations are playing an increasingly important role in world diplomacy and the global economy, but the terms and categories Kupchan uses to describe this phenomenon lead him to provide some rather poor advice.
The magazine Commentary once published an article titled, “Has There Ever Been Anything Like the Soviet Union?” The piece appeared during the last decades of the Cold War, and the title was meant to convey the message that in the long and sordid annals of despotism, the USSR was unique—in the completeness of its totalitarian scheme, in the staying power of its mechanisms of control, in its global reach, and in its determination to assemble a terrifying arsenal even as its domestic economy lay in ruins. Eventually, of course, the Soviet Union succumbed, but for over 70 years it survived and even thrived as a model of anti-freedom that inspired regimes ranging from East Germany to North Korea.
Burma’s parliamentary by-elections on Sunday were seen as a make or break moment for the reform process that has taken place over the last two years. The country, long ruled by one of the world most repressive authoritarian regimes, inaugurated a new parliament and a nominally civilian government in early 2011, though both are still dominated by the military and its allies. The authorities have since taken a series of other steps, such as the release of some political prisoners that were designed to improve relations with democratic powers including the United States. The international community in turn has sought to engage the new leadership and encourage further reforms.