Threats to democracy and the rule of law all over the world made 2010 “an especially discouraging year,” according to a new report out by the American research institute Freedom House.
On Thursday, the institute released its Freedom in the World 2011 survey, which reports a serious decline in democracy worldwide.
“The world’s most powerful authoritarian regimes acted with increased brazenness in 2010,” says the survey. Among the most damaging acts of the year, Freedom House cited the trial and conviction of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and China’s open disdain for the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony.
As the report notes, the Russian government’s charges against Khodorkovsky were widely dismissed as fraudulent. However, this did not prevent Prime Minister Vladimir Putin from publicly declaring “that Khodorkovsky belonged in jail even as the court was nearing a verdict.”
The report lambasts the Russian president for failing his entire pro-democracy agenda: “President Dmitry Medvedev’s highly publicized pledges to combat corruption, arrest those responsible for a series of high-profile murders of journalists and activists, and strengthen the rule of law have not been fulfilled. Instead, bribery and embezzlement remain the norm, politically motivated violence goes unpunished, and the law is enforced at the caprice of the leadership.”
Analysts said it was refreshing to learn that, behind closed doors, US diplomats in Russia and other authoritarian countries were “realistic, astute, concerned about growing repression, and often sympathetic toward the political opposition,” despite more positive statements that US officials make in public.
At the same time, they warned that strong, outspoken resistance on a global level was necessary to prevent authoritarian regimes from silencing their domestic critics. “Indeed,” says the report, “if the world’s democracies fail to unite and speak out in defense of their own values, despots will continue to gain from divide-and-conquer strategies, as Russia’s leaders are now doing in their approach to Europe and the United States.”
Freedom House ranks the level of each country’s political rights and civil liberties on a scale from 1 to 7, with 7 being the least free. For a self-proclaimed democracy, Russia’s scores are abysmal: 6 for political rights and 5 for civil liberties, putting it on the same level as the occupied West Bank, Rwanda and Yemen.