Hayward: Report Finds Global Freedom Declines for 17th Year in a Row

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The 50th edition of the annual global survey by Freedom House found freedom declining again worldwide for the 17th year in a row, driven by events such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, coups, and attacks on “democratic institutions.”

Freedom declined overall despite receiving a considerable boost from the end of strict coronavirus controls in many countries.

“The struggle for democracy may be approaching a turning point. The gap between the number of countries that registered overall improvements in political rights and civil liberties and those that registered overall declines for 2022 was the narrowest it has ever been through 17 years of global deterioration,” Freedom House observed.

“The gains were driven by more competitive elections as well as a rollback of pandemic-related restrictions that had disproportionately affected freedom of assembly and freedom of movement,” the report observed.

This might not be cause for optimism, because a massive boost to freedom metrics from the end of pandemic restrictions is a unique event that hopefully will not be repeated for a long time, if ever.

Another singular event was the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which knocked 11 points off Ukraine’s score on the 100-point freedom index. 

The biggest loss in world freedom in 2022 took place in Burkina Faso, which lost 22 points and moved from “Partly Free” to “Not Free” thanks to a pair of military coups and increasing “insecurity and violence from armed militant groups.”

This video grab taken from a video broadcasted on October 2, 2022 by the national television of Burkina Faso shows sub-lieutenant Jean-Baptiste Kabre (C), reading a statement surrounded by members of the military claiming to have taken power on September 30, 2022 in Ouagadougou. - In a communique read on national television in Burkina Faso, junior military members call for a "patriotic vigil" and "a total and constant mobilisation" in the capital to support the putsch. (Photo by Radiodiffusion Télévision du Burkina / AFP) (Photo by -/Radiodiffusion Télévision du Bur/AFP via Getty Images)

This video grab taken from a video broadcast on October 2, 2022 by the national television of Burkina Faso shows sub-lieutenant Jean-Baptiste Kabre (C), reading a statement surrounded by members of the military claiming to have taken power on September 30, 2022 in Ouagadougou. (Radiodiffusion Télévision du Bur/AFP via Getty Images)

Freedom House observed that while the military claimed it had to seize power to combat security threats, insecurity in Burkina Faso grew much worse after the coups.

In addition to military invasions, assassinations, and coups, Freedom House cited attacks on democratic institutions – from rigged votes and threats against voters, to violent protests against election outcomes – as a factor in reduced freedom.

The freedom that took the most severe beating in 2022 was freedom of speech, including freedom of the press. The report found that the number of countries that score 0 points out of 4 for press freedom has steadily increased over the past 17 years, “as journalists face persistent attacks from autocrats and their supporters while receiving inadequate protection from intimidation and violence even in some democracies.”

“Denying press freedom and the freedom of personal expression cuts citizens off from accurate information and from one another, strengthening authoritarian control,” report co-author Yana Gorokhovskaia observed.

Other dire assaults on personal freedom included the Taliban’s oppression of women in Afghanistan, brutal ethnic warfare in Ethiopia, Iran’s crackdown on the Mahsa Amini protests and the ugly oppression of women that kicked them off, and China’s authoritarian excesses.

Afghan women hold placards as they march and shout slogans "Bread, work, freedom" during a womens' rights protest in Kabul on August 13, 2022. - Taliban fighters beat women protesters and fired into the air on Saturday as they violently dispersed a rare rally in the Afghan capital, days ahead of the first anniversary of the hardline Islamists' return to power. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP) (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)

Afghan women hold placards as they march and shout slogans “Bread, work, freedom” during a womens’ rights protest in Kabul on August 13, 2022. (WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty)

Corruption continues to play a major role in deteriorating freedom, as kleptocracies are rarely interested in making diligent efforts to protect the lives and liberties of their citizens. Haiti, which Freedom House was still compiling detailed results for after the 2022 global report went to press, would be an unpleasant example of corrupt government yielding to gangland anarchy. As 2022 drew to close, Haiti barely had a government, even in its capital city, but it was also one of the most unfree countries in the world.

On the bright side, Freedom House saluted the people of countries like China and Iran for bravely persisting with protests against their authoritarian rulers, and in some cases pressuring regimes into making major concessions toward liberty, such as China abruptly abandoning its onerous “zero Covid” lockdown policies after unprecedented nationwide demonstrations.

“While authoritarians remain extremely dangerous, they are not unbeatable. The year’s events showed that autocrats are far from infallible, and their errors provide openings for democratic forces,” Freedom House said optimistically.

The report suggested “corruption and a focus on political control at the expense of competence” would prove to be the downfall of authoritarianism, which has been presenting itself as the only effective model for governing the high-tech industrialized world in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Authoritarian influence at the United Nations and other international organizations faltered as democracies reaffirmed the value of multilateral engagement. Ukrainians, with material support from many democracies, beat back a vast Russian army that was hampered by decades of corruption. In China, the ruling Communist Party’s onerous and politicized COVID-19 policies were abruptly dismantled in the face of public protests,” the authors noted.

Boiling freedom down into a numerical rating, turning complex and subjective relationships between power and liberty into a precise objective score that says this country gained 3 points while that country lost 5, is a difficult process that will inevitably raise questions about methodology. That is especially true when examining the nations with high freedom ratings because they have vigorous ideological debates, which will inevitably influence the judgment of the researchers.

For example, Freedom House awarded Canada a score of 98 out of 100, a world-leading freedom rating that was unchanged in 2022 – even though the big story out of Canada has been pushback against the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The detailed analysis of Canada for 2022 has not been published at the time of this writing, but one suspects researchers are likely to grade “benevolent” authoritarianism from “well-meaning” officials on a very gentle curve.

Last year was also a watershed year in Canada’s weirdly determined march toward assisted suicide, which is pushed with increasing fervor on people with mental and emotional problems, not just unbearable pain or terminal diseases. Does that make Canadians more “free,” because they can easily arrange to die with assistance from the State – or less “free,” because they’re dead? 

Of course, the chapter in “Freedom on the World” that covers the United States will be the most contentious section for careful readers.

“Investigations into the violent aftermath of the 2020 presidential election” were put front and center, but those investigations themselves are arguably a greater threat to freedom than an unruly demonstration that occurred three years ago, especially given the revelations that were to come about the biased and dishonest “January 6 committee” in early 2023.

“While hundreds of Republican candidates for offices across the country explicitly and groundlessly denied the legitimacy of Biden’s 2020 victory over Trump, most of those whose election would have given them influence over administration of the 2024 presidential balloting lost their races,” the report said. 

This concern was notably absent when Democrats who “explicitly and groundlessly denied the legitimacy” of every election they lost for the past 30 years gained power over balloting.

Freedom House treated the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022 as a net loss to “freedom,” which is a highly debatable assertion, since the voters of the 50 states now have far more influence over abortion laws than ever before. There is no question that the Supreme Court’s decision brought more democracy to the difficult question of abortion – more debates, more votes, states free to make abortion laws more permissive if their voters are so inclined – and Freedom House often uses “democracy” as a synonym for “freedom” in other contexts, including the very lengthy part of the 2022 U.S. report that dwells on the events of January 6, 2021.

The report’s section on education is downright nauseating, as Freedom House stood up for the “right” of authoritarian ideologies in the educational bureaucracy to impose ideologies like Critical Race Theory (CRT) and trans-sexual indoctrination on children – and treated the resistance of their parents to these totalitarian crusades as the threat to freedom.

Perhaps freedom is a light seen most clearly in pitch darkness, a concept most easily defined in its total absence. It is easy to demonstrate that the people of Iran, Afghanistan, or China are not free, and easy to explain how freedom could be indisputably enhanced with clear reforms that the ruling regimes would never agree to. Everyone can agree that preventing a brutal theocracy from murdering women who do not wear their headscarves tightly enough would make the people freer.

In nations where there are already great freedoms – market economies, vigorous elections, limits on government power, individual rights – it can be much harder to agree on whether a particular course of action would enhance or diminish freedom. The republics of the world argue about whether some freedom should be sacrificed for security, and whether true freedom is possible without prosperity or not.

Unfortunately, this all looks very messy to nations that are teetering on the edges of those “partly free” and “not free” categories in the “Freedom in the World” report, which is why they are listening to the brutally simple sales pitch of authoritarianism.


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