Freedom is one of those deceptively vague terms that mean different things to different people. It could be one’s ability to express his or her thoughts without worrying about breaking the law, or to do as one pleases without the necessity to conform to others’ expectations. But in the broadest sense, it means the ability to exercise one’s political and civil rights, and to affect, through his or her own actions, the course of one’s life, and future of his or her community.
These freedoms are currently in decline, according to the recent World Freedom Report issued by Freedom House, an international organization that advocates for democracy and human rights. Of the 195 countries assessed, 86 were rated free, 59 partly free, and 50 were not free.
The Report notes that “the lack of democratic gains around the world was conspicuous. The one notable exception was Tunisia, which became the first Arab country to achieve the status of Free since Lebanon was gripped by civil war 40 years ago.”
“By contrast, a troubling number of large, economically powerful, or regionally influential countries moved backward.”
Authoritarian governments found new and numerous ways to limit political participation and civil liberties, to quash criticism, to repress the efforts of journalists and bloggers to disseminate information and to persecute minorities demanding better treatment. Still others sought to retain power by manipulating elections and election law. And finally, many states increased or implemented surveillance, restrictions on internet communications, and curbs on personal autonomy.
This includes a number of Democratic countries, which instituted a variety of restrictions, particularly on foreign nationals, due to new pressures caused by attacks from terrorist groups, and the struggle to resolve difficult issues centered on an unprecedented influx of refugees fleeing from regional conflicts, particularly the Syrian civil war.
Denial of freedom by governments to citizens is, at best, a short-term solution that exacerbates the long-term problem. Repression stifles innovation and creativity. It throttles hope and ambition, thus curtailing economic prosperity and cultural rejuvenation.
As President Obama told the United Nations General Assembly in September, “Repression cannot forge the social cohesion for nations to succeed.”