Spearheaded by America’s withdrawal from its traditional global leadership role, 2017 saw political and civil liberties around the world deteriorate to their lowest point in more than a decade, according to a report published Tuesday by Washington-based think tank Freedom House.
The report showed Turkey moving from “partly free” the previous year to “not free.” It also showed Israel as the only free country in the Middle East.
The annual freedom index, which evaluates a range of parameters in 195 countries, says that in 2017 “democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades,” with 71 countries registering a decline in political rights and civil liberties and only 35 improving their score from the previous year.
Israel also saw a slight decline in its 2017 rating, with its civil liberties rating being taken down from two to three “due to new legislation aimed at tightening restrictions on critical nongovernmental organizations and denying them access to international support.”
In 2016, Israeli lawmakers passed into law the controversial so-called NGO law, which dramatically increases transparency requirements for fewer than two dozen Israeli NGOs that get most of their funding from foreign governments.
Beyond the efforts to investigate foreign funding, the government has also sought legislation that would go significantly further and would allow it to shutter left-wing NGOs critical of the Israel Defense Forces. And last week, the government published a list of organizations it says promote the boycott of Israel and whose members it will block from entering the country.
Overall, however, Israel maintained its “free” rating, notching an aggregate score of 79 out of 100, down only one point from last year’s 80.
By contrast, the West Bank — controlled by Israel and administered by the Palestinian Authority, and listed under “Related and Disputed Territories” — scored seven (the worst possible figure) for freedom of political rights and five for its record on civil liberties. Its aggregate score was 28 and it was listed as not free.
The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip — also categorized as not free — scored an equally dismal seven for political rights and six points for civil liberties. Its aggregate score was a lowly 12.
To reach the aggregate score, each country and territory was assigned between zero and four points on a series of 25 indicators. These scores were used to determine numerical ratings for political rights and civil liberties, with a rating of one representing the most free conditions and seven the least free. The ratings also determined a country’s overall status as free, partly free, or not free.
The report downgraded Turkey’s status from “partly free” to “not free” due to declines in its political rights and civil liberties ratings.
Freedom House criticized the response of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to an attempted coup in July 2016, which included mass arrests and the curbing of press freedoms. The report also took issue with the passing of a “deeply flawed” April 2017 referendum that granted Erdogan sweeping powers.
The report, titled “Democracy in Crisis,” cited several contributing factors to the global downturn, including the rise of populist leaders and their response to global anti-immigrant sentiments. But the “most striking,” it claims “was the accelerating withdrawal of the United States from its historical commitment to promoting and supporting democracy.”
While the report notes a slow decline in past decades of US influence around the world, it singles out President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies for “accelerating” the trend and even contributing to a global disregard for civil liberties.
“The Trump administration made explicit—in both words and actions—its intention to cast off principles that have guided US policy and formed the basis for American leadership over the past seven decades,” wrote Freedom House president Michael Abromowitz in his introduction to the report.
In its aggregate score, taking into account ratings for both civil liberties and political rights, the US only dropped from 89/100 last year to 86.
The US’s political rights rating declined from 1 (out of 7), representing the most freedom, to 2 due to “growing evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, violations of basic ethical standards by the new administration, and a reduction in government transparency,” the report said.
But Abromowitz said that beyond its own domestic freedom’s Trump highlighted an “inability — or unwillingness — by the United States to lead democracies in effectively confronting the growing threat from Russia and China, and from the other states that have come to emulate their authoritarian approach.”