- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Political rights and civil liberties around the world declined for a fourth straight year last year, according to an annual survey of global freedom.

The New York-based human rights group Freedom House stated in its report made public Tuesday that basic freedoms were weakened in 2009 by violent repression by Iran’s government against election protesters, lengthy prison terms handed out by China’s communist government to pro-democracy dissidents, attacks on human rights advocates in Russia, and continued terrorist and insurgent violence in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen.

The decline of freedom outlined in the survey, “Freedom in the World 2010,” represents the longest continuous period of decline in global freedom in the nearly 40-year history of the report.

Arch Puddington, Freedom House director of research, said in an interview that the decline was not due to any single factor.

“First, I think it is due to the influence of countries like Russia, China, Venezuela and Iran serving as role models of 21st-century authoritarianism,” he said.

Human rights and civic activists faced intensified repression in 40 nations in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.

Another reason is that in some parts of the world, authoritarian governments are “hitting back” against independent activists and civil-society organizations that are advocating great freedoms, Mr. Puddington said.

“Some countries see civil-society organizations as challenging the old establishment and political parities,” he said. “That’s why we’re seeing more action against dissidents, civil-society groups and even actions taken against bloggers.”

Asked if the Obama administration is partly to blame for not making the promotion of democracy a high priority, Mr. Puddington said the George W. Bush administration also slowed its pro-democracy programs in its final few years.

On Mr. Obama, Mr. Puddington said, “I think President Obama is still casting about for a democracy promotion policy and — whether it’s important or not.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was criticized for playing down the issue of pressuring Beijing on its human rights record. She told reporters in February that pressing China to observe basic human rights should not interfere with U.S.-China cooperation on economic, climate and security issues.

Mr. Puddington said he was concerned that senior posts in the Obama administration responsible for democracy and human rights issues were left unfilled until late last year.

“There’s been a lot of commentary in the press about the Obama administration’s attitude toward human rights issues and democracy promotion and we’ll see if that brings about some clarity within the administration,” Mr. Puddington said.

The most significant finding of the latest report is the decline in freedom in the Middle East, he said.

Three countries — Jordan, Yemen and Bahrain — were reclassified from “partly free” to “not free,” and freedoms declined in Morocco and Iran.

“Freedom House saw the region as a whole as headed slightly in the right direction after 9/11,” he said. “But that has changed.”

The survey examines political and civil rights enjoyed by people in 194 nations and 14 territories and assigns a status as free, partly free or not free based on scoring by key indicators.

States designated free last year included 89 countries, while partly free nations totaled 58. There were 47 unfree countries.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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