A new report warns that democratic values are weakening in countries around the world.
The report found that values such as fair elections and freedom of the press have worsened in each of the past 12 years.
The findings are from Freedom House, an American-based non-governmental organization.
Freedom House works in support of political freedom and democracy worldwide. While the group is independent, some of its money comes from the United States government.
For the new report, researchers studied information about conditions in 195 countries over the past year. Freedom House rated 88 of those countries as “free.” Fifty-eight others received a “partly free” rating. It identified 49 countries as “not free.”
Arch Puddington is a researcher with Freedom House. He said that the study confirmed a drop in political freedoms in each of the past 12 years.
“For the 12th consecutive year, freedom was on the decline across the globe. And by that we mean that there are more countries, in this case, in the case of 2017, many more countries that showed declines in freedom than showed improvements...”
Freedom House reported a weakening of the United States as a leader of democracy in 2017. It said that America’s standing was affected, in part, by reports of Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. U.S. government officials are investigating possible ties between Russia and aides to then presidential candidate Donald Trump.
“There are problems with the elections that you don’t find in most well-established democracies,” said Arch Puddington. He noted the large amounts of money spent on U.S. election campaigns and state laws making voting more difficult.
In written comments, Freedom House pointed to ethical concerns facing the administration of President Donald Trump. It said they include the Trump family’s business ties and the possibility for conflicts of interest, as well as the president’s decision not to release information about his taxes.
The administration has noted an ongoing investigation by tax experts as a reason for not releasing Trump's tax returns.
The Freedom House report noted the intensification of repression under Chinese leader Xi Jinping as a reason for China’s generally downward move and "not free" rating.
“We’ve noticed efforts by China to influence the way other countries deal with China, talk about China, what scholars write about China, what journalists write about China,” said Puddington.
He added that the report noted “a kind of creeping policy” of trying to expand Chinese restrictions to China’s neighbors and other countries, such as Australia, Canada, and even the United States.
Yet Freedom House researchers praised what they consider continued signs of political development for South Korea and the island of Taiwan.
The report described Myanmar, also known as Burma, as "partly free.” Researchers said their findings on the country are mixed. They noted its move from military rule toward democracy and a worsening humanitarian crisis, following the movement of Rohingya Muslims to neighboring Bangladesh.
Even with economic and political unrest in Nicaragua and Venezuela, Freedom House welcomed political developments in other Latin American countries.
In 2017, Lenin Moreno took office as Ecuador’s president. Freedom House noted how Moreno has cancelled some of the measures that former president Rafael Correa put in place.
Puddington praised Moreno for showing a willingness to have serious discussions with reformists and to take legal action against officials accused of corruption.
The report noted increased U.S. involvement with Cuba’s government and the Cuban people. Yet Freedom House rated Cuba as “not free” in the report. It said freedom of the press and open political debate are two areas in need of improvement.
The Freedom House report also gave "not free" ratings to Afghanistan and Iraq.
“It doesn't necessarily mean that the country is moving in the wrong direction or in the right direction,” noted Arch Puddington. “It just means that there are a lot of things going on in that country. And we that anticipate there will be changes in the next year.”
Observers say progress toward democratic elections and effective civilian governments could signal major developments for both countries.
Following the ouster of Robert Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s longtime leader, Freedom House listed the country as "partly free."
Arch Puddington explained the rating.
“Zimbabwe declined in our scores for 2017, but this was largely due to the fact that, you know, President Mugabe was pushed out by non-democratic means, and he was succeeded through non-democratic means..."
I’m Dorothy Gundy. And I’m Caty Weaver.
Elizabeth Cherneff reported this story for VOANews.com. George Grow adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
globe – n. a round model of the Earth
scholar – n. a person who has studied a subject for a long time
journalist – n. a reporter or news media worker
creep – adj. moving very slowly
anticipate – v. to think of; to expect
means – n. something that helps you get what you want; wealth
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