Freedom at Issue:

Insights on the global struggle for democracy

November 2012

Zselyke Csaky

This year has been a busy one for democracy advocates in Romania. In June, after the courts confirmed a two-year prison sentence in the corruption case of former prime minister Adrian Năstase, the newly appointed government—led by his Social Democratic Party (PSD) protégé, Victor Ponta—launched an unprecedented onslaught against several democratic institutions. These attempts to dismantle checks and balances, which received harsh criticism from the European Union, culminated in an unsuccessful July impeachment referendum against current president and longtime Năstase rival Traian Băsescu.

Nighat Dad

At least eight journalists and three human rights defenders are serving their terms in the prisons of Azerbaijan, according to a recent Human Rights Watch briefing. That should tell you a lot about the country’s crucially limited freedom of expression.

Arch Puddington

Elections have traditionally been interpreted as fair and competitive just as long as they were free of blatant fraud on election day. Modern authoritarians took note. Increasingly, they have developed strategies that aim to fix the outcome of political contests weeks, months, or even years before the ballots are cast. Their goal is to win elections while avoiding the brazen acts of vote rigging that inevitably trigger international opprobrium.

Sarah Cook

As China's Communist Party leaders prepare meet in Beijing for the monumental 18th Party Congress, the regime's army of domestic security forces has been busy trying to silence dissidents and preempt protests, online and offline.
 

Nate Schenkkan

On October 25, the year-long process of reregistration of religious groups in Kazakhstan came to an end. In the fall of 2011, after a number of startling terrorist attacks rocked Kazakhstan’s carefully cultivated image of stability, the government passed a new law requiring all religious organizations in the country to submit new applications for official registration. Without registration, the activities of the groups would be illegal. Both “traditional” religions, like Russian Orthodoxy and Sunni Islam, and “minority” religions underwent the procedure, which included complex and ambiguous new membership requirements and “expert” vetting of religious texts. Under the new rules, the number of religious organizations in the country has dropped by over 30 percent, from 4,551 to 3,088. The number of confessions with at least one registered organization dropped even more dramatically, from 42 to 17.

Arch Puddington
Zselyke Csaky

Ten years ago, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) scored an overwhelming victory in elections for the Turkish parliament. Its triumph represented much more than a normal rotation of power between one traditional party and another. As a party—or, perhaps more accurately, a movement—with roots in moderate Islamism, the AKP stood poles apart from the secularist parties that had dominated Turkish politics for much of the previous century.

Sam DuPont
Courtney C. Radsch

You’ve probably heard of the Great Firewall of China, which scrubs the web of any potentially subversive content for half a billion internet users. And you’ve definitely heard about the Egyptian government’s decision to switch off all internet and mobile-phone networks at the height of the uprising in 2011. But there are a host of lesser-known threats to internet freedom, some of which endanger the very nature of the net as we know it.