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Freedom House Warns of  'Global Stagnation'

A newly released report from the independent Freedom House says a "global stagnation" has developed over the past decade, and warns that a series of worrisome trends have emerged that could threaten political and civil liberties across the globe. From Washington, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Freedom House's annual survey found that the percentage of countries designated as "free" has failed to increase since 1994. The report surveyed 193 countries, rating them on a variety of criteria. Ninety nations were judged to be "free," while 58 qualified as "partly free" and 45 were rated "not free." About one-half of the people in the world living in "not free" conditions live in China.

One of the most troubling developments the group points to is what it calls a growing "push back" against organizations, movements and media that monitor human rights or promote democratic freedoms.

Freedom House's director of research Arch Puddington says that during 2006 Asia suffered the most set backs. The most significant was the military coup in Thailand that ousted the country's democratically elected president. "But Thailand is not the only country that moved in a backward direction. East Timor had a ratings decline; the Philippines declined; Taiwan had a very modest decline because of the presidential level of corruption; Malaysia moved in the wrong direction; Fiji had a coup; the Solomon Islands also moved in the wrong direction because of bad elections," he said.

In sub-Saharan Africa, after years of steady gains, the group says there were modest reversals. Peter Lewis, a professor at Johns Hopkins University says media rights are under threat, the status of religious and ethnic miniorities is threatened and a weak security environment have contributed to these declines. "And indeed there is troubling evidence that many of Africa's electoral democracies are eroding in the quality of civil liberties and the everyday freedoms that citizens enjoy," he said.

Russia also fared poorly in the Freedom House report. Modest declines were noted for Moscow's crackdown on non-governmental organizations and for its support of regimes in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Latin America, however, received some positive marks for elections last year in a dozen countries. But high rates of violent crime, corruption and economic instablity held the region back.

The report found the most free nations to be the United States and in Western Europe, however, the United States was criticized for its counter-terrorism efforts, which have raised concerns about the protection of civil liberties.

The report says the trend over the past decade is disturbing, with a lack of significant breakthroughs and the emergence of authoritarian regimes that are aggressively hostile to democracy.