Pro-democracy group Freedom House says the level of freedom around the world declined last year, with more than half the world's population living in areas that are only partly free or not free at all.
The Washington-based group released its annual report Thursday, rating 195 countries and 14 territories based on political rights and civil liberties.
Abuses and fighting in Syria and repression in Saudi Arabia put both countries among the 10 least-free countries. Overall in the Middle East, the report says 83 percent of people live in countries rated "not free."
Report author Arch Puddington said governments are using tools other than violence to curtail freedoms.
"The political elites don't always have to use violence. They don't have to put people up against the wall, but they are still able to control politics and marginalize the political opposition."
The Eurasia region also ranked as one of the least-free regions, with more than three out of four people living in places rated "not free." The report cited the increased persecution of minority groups, like gays, in Russia as well as a crackdown on media freedoms in Ukraine.
In Africa, the report was mixed, with Freedom House noting gains in Mali, Rwanda and Zimbabwe, but significant declines in Uganda and in the strife-torn Central African Republic and South Sudan.
The report says China grew more intolerant in 2013 through the targeting of online speech and jailing of activists. Pakistan got a boost through its elections, but there were declines in liberties in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Report author Puddington said repressive leaders are not alone in the way they govern.
"We are at a time right now where the leaders of the authoritarian community are more self-assured and arrogant than they've been in the past and there's a kind of a loose coalition, alliance of the repressive countries."
The report says 2013 was the eighth consecutive year in which the overall level of freedom in the world declined.