Washington – March 4, 2020 — Democracy is under assault around the globe, and the effects are evident not just in authoritarian states like China, Russia, and Iran, but also in countries with a long track record of upholding basic rights and freedoms. While protest movements in every region have illustrated widespread popular demand for better governance, they have yet to reverse the overall pattern of declining freedom, according to Freedom in the World 2020, the latest edition of the annual country-by-country assessment of political rights and civil liberties, released today by Freedom House.
Countries that suffered setbacks in 2019 outnumbered those making gains by nearly two to one, marking the 14th consecutive year of deterioration in global freedom. During this period, 25 of the world’s 41 established democracies experienced net losses.
The report also found an alarming global erosion in governments’ commitment to pluralism, a defining feature of liberal democracy. Ethnic, religious, and other minority groups have borne the brunt of recent state abuses in both democracies and authoritarian countries. Left unchecked, such violations threaten the freedom of entire societies.
The two most glaring examples are China, where the regime’s multiyear campaign of cultural annihilation against the Uighur minority and other predominantly Muslim groups has been well documented, and India, which earned the largest score decline among the world’s 25 most populous democracies in this year’s report. India has long been viewed as a potential democratic counterweight to authoritarian China in the Indo-Pacific region, but the current Indian government’s alarming departures from democratic norms are blurring the values-based distinction between Beijing and New Delhi.
As part of a pattern of Hindu nationalist policies under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India issued an exclusionary citizens’ register in one state and adopted a discriminatory citizenship law at the national level, then used aggressive tactics to suppress the protests that ensued. The central government also abruptly revoked the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority state, and initiated a sweeping security crackdown to enforce the change. As a result, Indian Kashmir, which is assessed separately in Freedom in the World, experienced one of the five largest single-year declines of the past decade anywhere in the world, and the territory’s freedom status dropped from Partly Free to Not Free.