Freedom House released its annual
Freedom in the World report this week, rating each of the world’s nations according to the political rights and civil liberties of their people.
The report found that overall freedom in the world dropped for the ninth consecutive year, with nearly twice as many countries suffering declines in freedom as registering gains.
The number of countries whose freedom improved is at its lowest point in nine years.
The report found a growing disdain for democracy in nearly all regions of the world, with losses in personal freedom often coming in the form of increased state surveillance and restrictions on internet communications.
Of the 195 countries assessed, 26% were rated “Not Free,” with ratings for the Middle East and North Africa among the worst of the world’s regions.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka heads an authoritarian regime notorious for crushing any and all forms of political dissent.
Term limits don't exist and key opposition figures are often prevented from running for office, according to Freedom House. As a result, opposition parties have no representation in the Belarusian National Assembly.
Belarusian national television is controlled by the government and dissenting views are not presented. As more and more Belarusians gain access to the internet, the government is trying to expand its control to the web. Social networking sites are blocked, and online opposition activists are regularly harassed and threatened.
The political process in anarchic Somalia is largely driven by clan loyalty, according to Freedom House.
While Somalia's current parliament is highly regarded by the international community, Somali citizens exercise little power over the system and have limited, if any, access to their representatives.
Somalia's new government, which took power last December, also controls the media with a heavy hand. Somalia is plagued by lawlessness: though technically illegal, female genital mutilation is still widely practiced on nearly all young Somali girls.
The prevalence of armed groups like the jihadist organisation al Shabaab, and the government's relatively limited ability to counter them, makes the state of civil and political rights incredibly dire even without an oppressive state apparatus.
Political opposition in Equatorial Guinea is limited and kept under strict control by the regime, according to Freedom House. The ruling party has almost complete control over the media, judiciary, police, and military. Corruption is rampant.
Press censorship by the government is authorised under a 1992 law, Facebook is blocked, and libel is a criminal offence. The government engages in arbitrary arrests and frequently detains its political opponents on charges of 'destabilization.'
Chad has never held entirely free and fair elections, according to Freedom House. President Idriss Déby, a former military commander, ousted dictator Hissène Habré in 1990 has been president ever since.
Déby has complete control over the judicial and legislative branches of government, and his ethnic group -- the Zaghawa -- controls Chad's political and economic systems. This has fomented resentment among the more than 200 ethnic groups that live in Chad.
Chad is a notorious source, transit, and destination country for child trafficking, a problem the government has done little to address.
Cuba has become more free since Fidel Castro stepped down as president in 2008, but is still considered 'not free' by Freedom House's standards.
Cuba's one-party political system is dominated by the Communist Party. Political dissent is a punishable offence, and the Cuban government has continued its use of short-term 'preventative' detentions to intimidate the opposition.
The Cuban news media is owned and run by the state and few Cubans have access to the Internet since it is so expensive -- one hour of computer time at an internet café costs the equivalent of a week's average salary.
Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy with a legal system based on Sharia law. The Koran and the Sunna (the traditions of the prophet Muhammad) are the country's constitution and political dissent is criminalized, according to Freedom House.
Members of the Saudi royal family own stakes in news outlets in multiple countries and they largely control domestic media content. Journalists and activists have been jailed for expressing dissent online.
All Saudis are required by law to be Muslims, and the public practice of any religion other than Islam is strictly forbidden. Shiites and Sufis are heavily restricted in their worship. Women are not permitted to drive cars or leave the home without a male relative accompanying them.
Syria's collapse into civil war has produced more than 2 million refugees, 5 million internally displaced persons, and nearly 130,000 fatalities, according to Freedom House.
President Bashar al-Assad's attempts to defeat Syria's armed factions have resulted in the indiscriminate killing of civilians using air strikes, artillery bombardments, and chemical weapons. Tens of thousands of people have been arrested and tortured since the uprising began in 2011 and Syrian journalists are frequently kidnapped and executed.
China's president Xi Jingping launched an aggressive anti-graft campaign in 2013, promising to crack down on corrupt officials and business leaders both at home and abroad.
This campaign has come at the expense of civil and political liberties, according to Freedom House, and judicial oversight of party actions has been notably absent since the campaign began. Civil society organisations, labour leaders, and academics are regularly investigated and often harassed by government officials.
The Chinese Communist Party does not tolerate any form of organised opposition -- more than 190 political reform activists were detained during 2014 alone.
North Korea, which functions as a single-party state under a totalitarian family dictatorship, is the least free country in the world, according to Freedom House.
Corruption and bribery are pervasive at every level of the state and the economy. Internet access is restricted to a few thousand, high-ranking people, and academic freedom does not exist: all curriculum must be approved by the state.
All forms of protest and collective bargaining are illegal and there is no independent judiciary. Political dissidents are either executed or sent to prison camps, where many of them die from extreme hunger or exhaustion.
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