NEW YORK (AP) — Global freedom has suffered a disturbing decline with 60 percent of the world's population, or 2.6 billion people, living in countries that are not completely free, according to a report released Wednesday.
Freedom House's annual study which evaluated the state of freedom in 195 countries and 15 territories determined that 61 countries became less free in 2014, while just 31 saw freedoms improve.
The report said terrorism had a devastating impact in the Middle East and West Africa, with groups massacring both security forces and civilians, taking foreigners hostage and killing or enslaving religious minorities.
Syria, where a civil war is in its fourth year and the Islamic state terrorist group has extended its reach, was ranked among the world's worst countries. But Tunisia was an exception in the region. After holding democratic elections under a new constitution, the North African country became the Arab world's only country to gain the status of "Free."
The report also cited Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region. Crimea, which was evaluated separately for the first time, received the "Not Free" status as Tartars and others who opposed Russia's annexation were deprived of their rights. Russia itself was labeled "Not Free," with the report criticizing President Vladimir Putin's government for cracking down on dissent and vilifying gays.
The report also singled out the U.S. Senate report on the CIA's torture of terrorism suspects following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and the protests that erupted last year over the police killings of unarmed black men in New York and Missouri. The report noted "the repeated failure of prosecutors to secure indictments of the officers responsible." However, the U.S. remained among the best-ranked countries for freedom.
In Latin America, Freedom House denounced Venezuela's mass arrests of anti-government protesters and an increase in the number of political prisoners. It called the country a "textbook case of political and economic dysfunction," where "toxic mixture of corruption, misrule and oil-price declines brought shortages, rampant inflation, and enhanced repression."
Freedom House criticized Brazil and other Latin American democracies for responding to "Venezuela's deterioration with silence." Likewise, the report denounced Asian democracies like India and Indonesia for failing to encourage a return to civilian rule in Thailand.
Although it praised Western sanctions on Russia and the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, Freedom House said "leaders of democracies compete for China's favor" and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi "is treated as a strong ruler and a partner in the fight against terrorism" even though both countries have cracked down on political and civil rights.
By ALEXANDRA OLSON (Associated Press)