Read the original piece here.
Hungary’s descent into the Partly Free category in Freedom House’s just-released annual assessment of global media independence should set off alarms for those who believed the country’s press freedom was firmly established.
For much of the past decade, global press freedom has been in retreat. This may seem counterintuitive in an era marked by the constant development and refinement of new communication technologies. Yet even as the internet, blogs, microblogs, mobile-telephone videos, and other forms of new media are reshaping the information landscape, governments are finding new and more sophisticated ways to control news coverage and manipulate political discourse.
by Tyler Roylance
Last week, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin published an article—in the business newspaper Kommersant and, in shortened form, in the Washington Post—on the topic of “democracy and the quality of government.” Skeptical readers may scoff at the idea, but the fact that the Russian leadership devoted time and resources to the piece makes it worth investigating.
by E. P. Licursi*
Since its foundation in 1923, the Republic of Turkey has endured three military coups against democratically elected governments, in 1960, 1971, and 1980. A fourth military intervention—in the form of an ultimatum—brought down a coalition government led by the Islamist Refah Partisi (Welfare Party) in 1997. Since 2002, however, the Adelet ve Kalkına Partisi (Justice and Development Party, or AKP) has consolidated power, offering a platform of political conservatism with an Islamic bent and neoliberal economic development that has garnered unprecedented popular support.
by Vukasin Petrovic
Director for Africa Programs
Photo Credit: Nicolas Pinault/VOA News
The progress that sub-Saharan Africa has achieved in building democracy over the past generation is coming undone. After two decades of significant gains, the continent has experienced a steady decline in democracy over the last several years.
Technorati Tags: Civil Society, Democratic Governance, Elections, Freedom House, Freedom of Association, Freedom of Expression, Human Rights, Internet Freedom, Media Freedom, Religious Freedom, Rule of Law, Sub-Saharan Africa
by Robert Orttung and Christopher Walker*
To mark the first anniversary of Egypt’s January 25 revolution—which resulted in the fall of long-time president Hosni Mubarak just 18 days later—a coalition of more than 80 revolutionary groups issued
a statement underscoring just how unfinished the revolution really is.
“In light of a full year of failure,” the statement by the Revolutionary Youth declared, “it is clear that the junta has not achieved the goals of the revolution.” Amid the demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of people in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and other cities across the country, both celebrating the anniversary and calling for an end to military rule, that statement struck a sobering note. Hundreds have been killed since last January 25 by Egyptian security forces; thousands of others wounded in clashes; and over 12,000 civilians have been put on trial in military courts for a range of crimes, most of them political in nature and in any case a violation of guarantees of due process. Meanwhile, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) faces spiraling economic problems, with a budget crisis and a sharp depreciation of the Egyptian pound potentially in the offing. The hoped-for democratic transition seems to be in serious jeopardy.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the SCAF’s attempt to eviscerate Egyptian civil society and handcuff its international partners through a campaign of legal intimidation and media sensationalism that began in the summer of 2011. What has been portrayed by the Egyptian government as strictly a matter of law—the need to investigate NGOs to ensure they are in compliance with Egyptian law governing their registration and ability to move funds into the country—has been given the lie by the manner in which the investigation has been carried out. Freedom House, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, along with 14 other organizations (many of them Egyptian), were all raided on December 29 by armed security police. Our offices were searched, equipment and records seized, cash on hand confiscated, and the premises closed and sealed. Freedom House’s local staff has been repeatedly interrogated by the investigating judges. International staff of some of these organizations has been prevented from leaving the country. The media vilification campaign continues unabated, and some organizations, including ours, have been falsely accused (though not formally charged) with attempting to foment instability and “chaos” in the country. All this has taken place despite the fact that Freedom House and its sister organizations made every attempt to comply with Egyptian law by being transparent about our activities, submitting applications for legal registration, and cooperating with the investigation.
The raids are only the latest episode in a broader war on Egyptian civil society. Over 400 Egyptian organizations are likewise under investigation, and some of their offices have been closed as well. Their employees too remain under investigation. It is no coincidence that the Egyptian government’s actions focus almost exclusively on organizations involved in human rights, democracy building and governmental oversight. These activities pose a challenge to long-entrenched interests in Egypt.
The SCAF’s motivations seem clear. Pulling a page from Mubarak’s playbook, the military wants to ensure that it is seen as the only authority in Egypt that can control the rising power of the Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood (whose Freedom and Justice Party won 46 percent of the votes in the new parliament) and its more radical counterparts, the Salafis. By intimidating or eliminating the ability of civil society as well as liberal politicians and parties to offer alternatives, the army can justify its continued grip on the levers of power. This is an especially effective message in some Washington corridors of power.
In addition, the military wants to ensure that its plans for shaping the political transition now underway are not disrupted by political forces opposed to its control. At stake is the military’s ability to avoid civilian oversight of its budget and activities, and to retain control over its web of economic interests (by some estimates military or military-controlled industries account for around 40 percent of the Egyptian economy.) The SCAF also fears it will be held accountable for past crimes and human rights abuses—as the Revolutionary Youth’s statement demanded—if more democratic alternatives arise to successfully challenge the state.
Despite an energetic campaign by the U.S. Administration and Congress, the SCAF so far appears to have calculated that it can carry out its campaign against civil society without paying a significant cost to
its relationship with Washington. So far they have been proven correct.
Why should this matter to the United States? For more than 30 years, America has invested in Egypt as a cornerstone of regional stability, based on its commitment to peace with Israel, counterterrorism cooperation, and quiet facilitation of US military movement in and out of regional theaters of war. Cairo remains the third largest recipient of US military assistance ($1.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing annually) and the fourth largest aid recipient overall. But with the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, military needs are fewer. And the sweeping political changes in the region over the last year have transformed the very meaning of regional stability. Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, has been a leader in both war and peace; it must now become a partner on political transformation, where its example, positive or negative, will have a major and perhaps transformative impact elsewhere.
Most important, the stability of this major country depends on completing the transition to democracy. The alternative—reversion to authoritarianism and resurgent radicalism—poses a serious threat of deepening political turmoil and increased economic stress, with potential regional repercussions. This is in no one’s interest. But it is more likely if civil society cannot operate freely. Without effective advocates for political freedoms, transparent electoral processes, civil liberties and representative government, Egypt’s press, political parties and citizens will more vulnerable to government repression and investors will keep their money off the table. All this has serious implications for the country’s future.
Re-opening our offices and returning equipment and documents would be a welcome first step by the Egyptian government to begin addressing the problems it has created.
But that’s only a start. Will Freedom House and its Egyptian partners be allowed to operate freely? That is where the larger and more important fight lies.
The U.S. government has considerable leverage available to influence Egypt’s course. The State Department and Foreign Operations bill, signed into law by President Obama late last year, requires that before military aid to Egypt can be released, the Administration must certify that the Egyptian military is assisting the transition to civilian government and the implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, religion, and due process of law. Used properly, this certification requirement gives the Administration an opportunity for a powerful diplomatic conversation that it should use not just to roll back the current crisis manufactured by the Egyptian government, but also to enlarge the political space in which civil society can operate.
The U.S. should insist on replacement of the current repressive Mubarak-era law governing the operations of NGOs (Law 84 of 2002), which has long been used to restrict activities of civil society organizations. Moreover, the United States should make clear it considers the protection of human rights and the advancement of democracy a vital interest in Egypt and elsewhere in the region, much as President Obama did in his speech on the Arab Spring last May.
Whether the United States can succeed in effecting such an important policy shift in Egypt is unclear; whether it will even wish to take on such a task is too. Nevertheless, one thing is clear: the longer the crisis inflicted on civil society in Egypt drags on, the likelier the rollback of democratic transition will become.
by Vanessa Tucker
Project Director, Countries at the Crossroads
Last week, Freedom House released the 2012 edition of Freedom in the World, its annual survey of political rights and civil liberties. According to the report, Egypt remains in the Not Free category, but with a number of score improvements and an upward trend arrow to reflect progress since the ouster of long-standing president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Some might argue that this assessment does not give sufficient credit to the achievements of the uprising, while others will insist that the improvements registered in the report are not justified in light of ongoing repression.
by Christopher Walker and Robert Orttung*
In an op-ed published in the New York Times last April, we took a cautiously optimistic view on the possibility of a breakthrough for media freedom in post-Mubarak Egypt. We argued that if state-controlled media, especially television, underwent serious reform, it would tip the balance toward an open information landscape, particularly when combined with the revolution in online social media in the country.
by David J. Kramer and Arch Puddington*
As we mark the first anniversary of the events that led to the Arab Spring, it is worth highlighting the uprisings’ far-reaching repercussions for freedom, both in the region and beyond. Freedom in the World, the report on global freedom issued annually by Freedom House, found more declines than gains worldwide for 2011, but we believe that the overarching message for the year is one of hope and not reversal. At a minimum, we can say that developments in the Middle East touched off the most serious challenge to authoritarian rule since the collapse of Soviet communism. While the challenges today are far more complex than in 1989, the basic theme of captive peoples seeking freedom after decades of oppression is very much the same.
Posted at 05:38 PM in Civil Society, Elections, Freedom of Expression, Press Freedom, Religious Freedom, Africa, Americas, Arab Spring, Asia-Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe , China, Eurasia, Freedom of Association, Internet Freedom, Middle East and North Africa , Rule of Law, Russia, United States, Women's Rights | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Technorati Tags: Civil Society, Democratic Governance, Elections, Freedom House, Freedom of Association, Freedom of Expression, Human Rights, Internet Freedom, Media Freedom, Religious Freedom, Rule of Law, Women's Rights
There is never a dull moment for the media sphere in China, home to the most elaborate censorship apparatus in the world. Drawing on nearly 40 issues of the China Media Bulletin, Freedom House staff have identified the following as the year’s worst and weirdest developments surrounding press and internet freedom in China.
Technorati Tags: Ai Weiwei, capitalism, censorship, China, China Media Bulletin, Chinese Communist Party, cyberattacks, detention, Freedom House, freedom of expression, human rights, internet freedom, media, microblogs, open internet, press freedom, thuggery
by Mary McGuire and Sarah Trister*
The year 2011 will be remembered as one of immense political and social change around the world, particularly the Middle East. On this International Human Rights Day, Freedom House looks back at a few of the best and worst developments of the year with respect to their long-term implications for the global state of human rights.
Posted at 02:32 PM in Civil Society, Elections, Freedom of Expression, Modern Authoritarianism, Press Freedom, Religious Freedom, Africa, Americas, Arab Spring, Asia-Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe , China, Corruption, Eurasia, Freedom of Association, Internet Freedom, Isolationism, Middle East and North Africa , Minority Rights, Rule of Law, Russia, United States, Western Europe , Women's Rights | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
by Paula Schriefer
Vice President for Global Programs
Last week I joined a delegation of leading freedom of expression organizations in Hungary to assess the impact of much criticized media legislation that went into effect in January. Discussions with dozens of journalists, media officials, regulation authorities, and government representatives validated the serious concerns expressed by international press freedom experts since the law was passed last December.
Technorati Tags: Council of Europe, delegation, European Parliament, Fidesz government, Freedom House, freedom of expression, Hungary, international criticism, journalists, media legislation, OSCE, Paula Schriefer, press freedom, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression, Viktor Orban
by Christopher Walker and Robert Orttung*
Vladimir Putin’s foray into the ring to congratulate the winner of a mixed martial arts match the week before last provided ordinary Russians with an extraordinary view of their country’s paramount leader. The live national television broadcast captured emphatic booing by the crowd of 20,000 that was clearly directed at Putin, who has made management of his image a top priority. Things quickly returned to normal, however, at least by the standards of state-dominated mass media in Russia. By the following day, Kremlin-controlled television stations had sanitized their coverage of the event, cleansing it of any heckling aimed at Putin.
Technorati Tags: authorities, capitalism, Channel One, Christopher Walker, civil society, election, Freedom House, Freedom on the Net 2011, Gazprom-Media, George Washington University, internet freedom, Kremlin, media environment, modern authoritarianism, press freedom, Robert Orttung, Russia, Vladimir Putin
by Melanie Dominski
Sr. Program Associate, Freedom of Expression Campaign
Two years ago today, in the southern Philippines province of Maguindanao, 100 armed guards overtook a civilian convoy and executed the passengers in what has become known as the Maguindanao massacre. Of the 57 victims, 32 were journalists, making the incident the deadliest single attack against journalists on record and earning the Philippines the second-place slot on the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) list of the most dangerous countries for members of the media. In the course of this brutal attack, at least four female journalists were allegedly raped prior to being executed; virtually all of the female victims reportedly suffered genital mutilation, and many of the victims were beheaded.
Posted at 10:21 AM in Civil Society, Freedom of Expression, Press Freedom, Africa, Americas, Asia-Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe , China, Eurasia, Middle East and North Africa , Rule of Law, United States, Western Europe | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Technorati Tags: Andal Amaptuan Jr. Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Anna Politkovskaya, Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House, freedom of expression, human rights, human rights abuses, IFEX, impunity, International Day to End Impunity, International Freedom of Expression Exchange, journalist, Maguindanao massacre, Melanie Dominski, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, press freedom, Russia, Saleem Shahzad, Valentin Valdes Espinosa
by Thomas R. Lansner*
The victory of opposition Patriotic Front leader Michael Sata in Zambia’s September presidential election was a welcome example of an almost entirely peaceful rotation of power in a maturing African electoral democracy. President Sata can now carry Zambia further into a position of continental leadership by quickly making good on three campaign promises: revising Zambia’s draft constitution to better protect basic freedoms, fighting corruption, and properly protecting the rights of all Zambian workers, especially those employed in the growing number of Chinese-owned mines and related industries.
The election stands as a credit to the vast majority of Zambians who desired and worked for a fair campaign and a free vote. Civil society groups fielded domestic election observers and deployed new technological platforms for reporting potential irregularities. The Electoral Commission of Zambia conducted a massive voter registration campaign and supervised a largely transparent and efficient electoral process, one that was endorsed by international observers despite shortcomings such as the use of state resources and state media to support incumbent president Rupiah Banda and his Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). Yet Banda conceded Sata’s convincing victory in a timely and graceful manner after initial delays in reporting results sparked scattered rioting in Patriotic Front strongholds in northern Zambia.
Technorati Tags: China, Chinese investment, Chinese-owned mines, civil society, elections, Electoral Commission of Zambia, Freedom House, human rights, media, President Michael Sata, press freedom, Thomas Lansner, Zambia, Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation
by Mary McGuire
Senior Communications Manager
On November 4, to mark the release of this year’s edition of Countries at the Crossroads, Freedom House and the Atlantic Council hosted a discussion on the prospects for successful democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)—particularly in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, which were among six MENA countries examined in the new Crossroads report.
The study, which assesses democratic governance in 35 countries around the world, found that despite promising post-uprising openings in areas including freedom of expression and freedom of association in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, the task of “rebuilding basic institutions like the justice system, law enforcement agencies, and regulatory frameworks for the media and civil society, all of which have been warped and corrupted by decades of authoritarian rule, will require many years of effort.”
Posted at 10:13 AM in Civil Society, Elections, Freedom of Expression, Press Freedom, Arab Spring, Freedom of Association, Internet Freedom, Middle East and North Africa , Rule of Law, Women's Rights | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Technorati Tags: Al-Arabiya Television, Ambassador William Taylor, Arab Spring, Atlantic Council, civil society, Countries at the Crossroads, David Yang, democracy, Egypt, Freedom House, freedom of association, freedom of expression, Hisham Melhem, internet freedom, Libya, Michele Dunne, Middle East and North Africa, North Africa, press freedom, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, SCAF, Supreme Council of Armed Forces, Tunisia, US Department of State, USAID, women's rights