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World Freedom Declines for 10th Year


Syrian refugee children wave and flash the V-sign at a refugee camp in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, June 19, 2015.

Syrian refugee children wave and flash the V-sign at a refugee camp in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, June 19, 2015.


A human rights group says the slowing world economy, a crackdown on dissidents and dislike of foreigners fleeing their country have led to a sharp drop in freedom around the world for the 10th consecutive year.

Freedom House, a U.S.-based human rights group, measured freedom in 195 countries. Its Freedom in the World 2016 report shows a decline in 72 of those countries last year. It was the largest decline since the 10-year-long drop began. The report says 50 countries are “not free” and 59 “partly free.”

Countries with the worst record

It says levels of freedom were lowest in Syria, the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, Somalia, North Korea, Uzbekistan and Eritrea. Also on the list of least-free countries were Turkmenistan, Western Sahara, Central African Republic, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea and Saudi Arabia.

The report says the Middle East and North Africa were the areas where people had the least freedom in 2015, followed closely by Eurasia. It says leaders of countries in those three areas increased their punishment of rights activists and other critics.

Decline in “free” countries

Many democratic countries in Europe and North America continued to be rated “free” in the report.

However, the report says civil liberties in democratic countries -- especially in Europe -- have been threatened as those countries deal with terrorist attacks and an increase in refugees. Many people have fled Syria and other conflict areas and have sought asylum in Europe.

The United States had one of the top ratings in the report. But it also showed a drop in freedom. The report blames the influence of money in election campaigns, legislative gridlock, failed promises of open government and racial discrimination for the drop.

Economy and unrest contribute to the decline

The group says the world’s economic problems and fear of unrest caused the governments of Russia, China and other countries to take stronger actions against their critics.

It says Russian President Vladimir Putin continued his repressive policies and took action against independent journalists and those who support homosexuals. The report criticizes Putin for his continued support for rebels in eastern Ukraine and for ordering airstrikes to support the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Freedom House says China’s communist government increased its attacks on human rights lawyers, journalists and minority rights activists. And it says China has expanded its targets to include labor and public health activists and defenders of women’s rights.

It notes that countries where freedom had declined sharply in 2014 had not improved in 2015. These include Thailand, Egypt, Crimea and South Sudan.

Improvement in some countries

The report finds an increase in freedom in 61 countries, including Latin America.

And it says there is a possibility that levels of freedom will increase in Iran and Myanmar this year. In Myanmar, the new government led by the National League for Democracy will face pressure to meet its promises to make the country freer.

And in Iran, reformers are preparing for parliamentary elections next month. There will also be an election for the group that names the country’s top religious leader.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

VOA’s Smita Nordwall reported on this story. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted her report for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

crackdown – n. a serious attempt to punish people for doing something that is not allowed; an increased effort to enforce a law or rule

consecutive – adj. following one after the other in a series; following each other without interruption

gridlock – n. a situation in which no progress can be made

journalists - n. news reporters; news media workers

homosexuals - n. people with a sexual interest in members of their own sex

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