A new report on political and civil liberties around the world says freedom suffered as authoritarian governments tightened their grips on power. VOA?s Gabe Joselow reports.
In its annual report, the U.S.-based group Freedom House says world freedom fell in 2010, for the fifth consecutive year.
Overall, the group says 25 countries showed significant declines in freedom last year, compared to 11 countries that showed gains.
While numerous factors contributed to the decline, Freedom House places particular blame on the world's authoritarian regimes.
Arch Puddington, Director of Research at Freedom House, discussing the report at an event in Washington,Thursday, says even elections - usually a positive indicator of freedom - are undermined by strong-arm governments.
"Autocrats are willing to have elections as long as they can control the press, as long as they can pay off their cronies as long as they can smother the NGO (non-govermental oganizations) sector ."
The report says election-rigging and the suppression of dissent is nothing new for authoritarian countries. But it notes oppressive regimes are acting with a striking level of brazenness, and disregard for outside opinion.
It lists as examples China's outrage over the awarding of the Nobel Prize to imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo, and Russia's sentencing of former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Freedom House also says the report should be a wake-up call for the world's democracies to do more to promote freedom.
Elliott Abrams, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, speaking at the event in Washington, argues that tough action is the answer.
"What penalty is imposed on the dictator when he closes newspapers or arrests opposition people; that is really the question. Otherwise, it is just speeches and they will ultimately be ignored by the people on the receiving end," he said.
He also says the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has been weak in this regard.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Michael Posner, responded. "I couldn't disagree with that more. I think we are increasingly in a range of discussions with other governments making clear the link between how they perform, how they act on human rights and democracy and their ability to work with us as a close ally or a partner," he said.
Freedom House lists the worst-off regions in the world as the Middle East and North Africa, noting allegations of fraud in Egypt's elections and the continued suppression of the opposition in Iran.
Mexico dropped in status, from "Free" to "Partly Free" because of the government's inability to control a wave of drug-related violence.
Ukraine was also downgraded to "Partly Free". The report cites "deteriorating levels of press freedom, instances of election fraud, and growing politicization of the judiciary."
Among the improvements last year, the report says Kyrgyzstan and Guinea rose from "Not Free" to "Partly Free" after both countries held "comparatively free and fair elections."