In another major report Wednesday on human-rights concerns, The Freedom House group said more aggressive tactics by authoritarian regimes, an upsurge in terrorist attacks and a global economic downturn have contributed to a disturbing decline in freedom worldwide.
The U.S.-based international human rights group said freedom worldwide declined in 2015, for the 10th consecutive year.
The annual report by Freedom House says 72 countries showed a decline in freedom for the year, the largest number since the downturn began.
The human rights group says of the 195 countries assessed, 50 were rated "Not Free" and 59 deemed "Partly Free." The report says Syria, the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, Somalia, North Korea, Uzbekistan and Eritrea were among the worst offenders.
Turkmenistan, Western Sahara, Central African Republic, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea and Saudi Arabia also made the list of the worst.
Among worst offenders
The Middle East and North Africa were listed as the worst regions in the world in 2015, followed closely by Eurasia.
The report indicates people in those places suffered significant setbacks, as authoritarian leaders cracked down on rights activists and other critics.
Freedom House said democratic countries, especially in Europe, also clamped down on civil liberties, as they came under pressure from terrorist attacks and the strain of unprecedented numbers of asylum seekers from Syria and other conflict zones. It said rising populism across the European Union cast doubt on the bloc’s ability to maintain high democratic standards among both current and aspiring member states.
According to Freedom House, the global economic downturn and fear of social unrest led authoritarian regimes in Russia, China and other countries to crack down harder on dissent.
Global economic downturn
In Russia, it said, President Vladimir Putin maintained his policies of repression, including persecution of LGBT activists and independent journalists, and he pursued military intervention abroad. It also cited Putin for his continued support for rebels in eastern Ukraine, and the airstrikes in Syria aimed at shoring up the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
It also cited Putin for his continued support for rebels in eastern Ukraine, and the airstrikes in Syria aimed at shoring up the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Freedom House said China's communist government in 2015 intensified its persecution of human rights lawyers, journalists and minority rights advocates, and singled out new targets for abuse, including labor activists, public health advocates and women’s rights defenders.
It said modest reforms such as the institution of a two-child policy could not offset the abuses by the government.
As the world's attention was diverted to new conflicts and disasters, the report said, the dramatic setbacks for freedom in Thailand, Egypt, Crimea and South Sudan that marked 2014 continued to fester.
Leaders in several countries moved to extend their terms in office during 2015, Freedom House noted, most prominently in Burundi, Bolivia, Ecuador, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
The report did find that 61 nations recorded progress in efforts to establish greater freedoms, and it cited Latin America for praise.
It cited Iran and Myanmar among the countries to watch in 2016.
The report said once the newly elected legislature of Myanmar is seated and a government is formed, the National League for Democracy will be under pressure to deliver on its promises.
In Iran, moderate reformists are preparing for next month's critical elections to the parliament and the Assembly of Experts, the body that appoints the country's supreme leader.