Feb 29, 2024 - World

52 countries saw "severe" declines in freedom last year, report finds

2024 Freedom in the World index
Source: Freedom House; Note: Index score based on aggregate political rights score (scale of 0–40) and its aggregate civil liberties score (scale of 0–60). The political rights and civil liberties scores are equally weighted to determine an overall status. It is possible to have two countries with the same overall score – but different statuses; Chart: Deena Zaidi/Axios Visuals

Global freedom receded for an 18th consecutive year in 2023, according to an annual report from watchdog group Freedom House.

Why it matters: The report found that political rights and civil liberties deteriorated in 52 countries, accounting for one-fifth of the global population.

  • Only 20% of the world's population lives in countries considered "free," while a majority of people live in "partly free" (42%) or "not free" (38%) countries.
  • Freedom House struck an optimistic note last year that global freedom was approaching turning point, but those hopes were dashed in 2023.

What they're saying: "2023 was a relatively grim year," Freedom House's Cathryn Grothe, a co-author of the report, told Axios.

  • Grothe said regressions in freedom affected around 22% of the world's population, while only around 7% experienced improvements.
  • Election manipulation, attacks on political pluralism and warfare were the primary drivers of last year's decrease, she said.

Zoom in: The report highlighted attempts by incumbents in Cambodia, Guatemala, Poland, Turkey and Zimbabwe to control elections, hinder their political opponents or prevent transfers of power.

  • Niger saw a sharp decline following a military coup, while Ecuador dropped from "free" to "partly free" because of a rise in political violence and instability.
  • The report also highlighted infringements on freedom from the democratically elected governments in India — which has fallen sharply in Freedom House's rankings during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's tenure — and Israel.

The flipside: Thailand was the only country to have its status upgraded, moving from "not free" to "partly free" after holding competitive elections.

  • Finland remained the freest country in the world, again receiving a perfect score of 100.

What's next: Freedom around the world will be greatly tested in 2024, as countries containing around half of the world's population have held or are expected to hold elections this year.

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