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FIW2015: Discarding Democracy – Return to the Iron Fist

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The Freedom in the World 2015, Freedom House’s annual report on the condition of political rights and civil liberties, that of the 195 countries assessed, 89 (46 percent) were rated Free, 55 (28 percent) Partly Free, and 51 (26 percent) Not Free.

Freedom in the World 2015 Map (Illustration taken from the website of Freedomhouse.org)Freedom in the World 2015 Map (Illustration taken from the website of Freedomhouse.org)

More aggressive tactics by authoritarian regimes and an upsurge in terrorist attacks contributed to a disturbing decline in global freedom in 2014, making it the ninth consecutive year with an overall decline in freedom. Continuing a recent trend, the worst reversals affected freedom of expression, civil society, and the rule of law, notes the report.

“Acceptance of democracy as the world’s dominant form of government—and of an international system built on democratic ideals—is under greater threat than at any other point in the last 25 years. Until recently, most authoritarian regimes claimed to respect international agreements and paid lip service to the norms of competitive elections and human rights. Today they argue for the superiority of what amounts to one-party rule, and seek to throw off the constraints of fundamental diplomatic principles,” said Arch Puddington, Freedom House vice president for research.

In the region of Western Balkans (OneWorldSEE.org continues to cover Croatia, in spite of the fact that the country is now full member of the European Union), Croatia (ratings of 1 for Political Rights and 2 for Civil Liberties), Montenegro (3 PR, 2 CL) and Serbia (2 PR, 2 CL) are ranked Free, while Albania (3PR, 3CL), Bosnia and Herzegovina (4PR, 3CL), Kosovo (4PR, 4CL) and Macedonia (4PR, 3CL) are ranked Partially Free.

The Report notes that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political rights rating declined from 3 to 4 because the government largely ignored a significant civic movement protesting corruption and calling for reforms in early 2014, and proved generally unresponsive to the population’s concerns. In Kosovo, political rights rating improved from 5 to 4 due to the comparatively successful conduct of June elections and a subsequent agreement by rival parties to form a coalition government. In Macedonia, political rights rating declined from 3 to 4 due to serious shortcomings in the April general elections and a related legislative boycott by the opposition.

Among European countries that got special mention in the Report is Hungary, where parliamentary and local elections revealed the extent to which recent legislative and other changes have tilted the playing field in favor of the ruling party, Fidesz. The report notes that Fidesz uses its renewed parliamentary supermajority to continue to transform the country’s institutions, facing few obstacles from the divided and enfeebled opposition.

Turkey drifted much further from democratic norms, with longtime prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rising to the presidency and overseeing government attempts to quash corruption cases against his allies and associates. The media and judiciary both faced greater interference by the executive and legislative branches, including a series of raids and arrests targeting media outlets affiliated with Erdoğan’s political enemies.

The report cites Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a rollback of democratic gains by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s intensified campaign against press freedom and civil society, and further centralization of authority in China as evidence of a growing disdain for democratic standards that was found in nearly all regions of the world.

The report also singled out terrorism for its impact on freedom in 2014. From West Africa through the Middle East to South Asia, radical jihadist forces plagued local governments and populations. Their impact on countries such as Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, and Nigeria was devastating, as they massacred security forces and civilians alike, took foreigners hostage, and killed or enslaved religious minorities, including Muslims they deemed apostates.

Of the 51 countries and territories designated as Not Free, 12 have been given the worst-possible rating of 7 for both political rights and civil liberties. The Worst of the Worst countries are the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The Worst of the Worst territories are Tibet and Western Sahara.

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