Freedom House report notes many countries are still struggling against authoritarianism
Thailand has improved slightly in an annual assessment by Freedom House but remains “not free” overall, the US democracy research group said on Thursday.
The country was assigned a score of 30 out of 100, compared with 29 out of 100 in the group’s 2022 report. The total score consists of two main components: Political Rights (6 out of 40), and Civil Liberties (24 out of 60)
“Following five years of military dictatorship, Thailand transitioned to a military-dominated, semi-elected government in 2019,” the authors of the Freedom in the World 2023 report wrote. “The combination of democratic deterioration and frustrations over the role of the monarchy in Thailand’s governance triggered massive demonstrations in 2020 and 2021.
“In response, the regime has employed authoritarian tactics, including arbitrary arrests, intimidation, lèse-majesté charges, and harassment of activists. Press freedom is constrained, due process is not guaranteed, and there is impunity for crimes committed against activists.”
Peru and Burkina Faso led a global deterioration in freedom last year but a number of other nations made improvements, offering hope in the fight against authoritarianism, Freedom House said.
In the first edition of the global survey in 1973, 44 of the 148 countries surveyed were rated Free, the report said. Today, 84 of 195 countries are Free.
“Over the past 50 years, consolidated democracies have not only emerged from deeply repressive environments but also proven to be remarkably resilient in the face of new challenges,” it said.
“Although democratisation has slowed and encountered setbacks, ordinary people around the world, including in Iran, China and Cuba, continue to defend their rights against authoritarian encroachment.”
In its 50th annual report, the group downgraded both Peru and Burkina Faso on its list of countries’ freedom level and also assessed declines in Russia, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Hungary, among others.
Peru, whose political chaos grew last year with the impeachment of president Pedro Castillo after he tried to dissolve congress and rule by decree, was moved from free to partly free, while Burkina Faso, which endured two coups in 2022, went down to not free.
But Colombia and Lesotho were both upgraded to free from partly free. Colombia saw the election of its first left-wing president, Gustavo Pedro, who has vowed to increase democratic inclusion, while Lesotho elected diamond tycoon Sam Matekane on a platform of transparency and economic reforms in the landlocked African nation.
Despite the net decline in freedom around the world, Freedom House also saw improvements in nations including Slovenia, Kosovo, Kenya, Malaysia, the Philippines and Zambia.
The report “documents a continuation of troubling trends, but it also gives some reason to hope that the freedom recession of the past 17 years may be turning a corner”, Freedom House president Michael Abramowitz said in a statement.
“One of the trends we found in the broader global research was that both coups and attempted coups can lead to long-term deterioration down the line,” said Amy Slipowitz, a co-author of the report, pointing to after-effects of the 2014 military takeover in Thailand and the 2016 attempt to oust Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
India, which boasts being the world’s largest democracy, was listed as partly free for the third straight year after being downgraded over curbs on civil liberties and freedom of expression under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Freedom House is primarily funded by the United States as well as other democratic governments but operates independently.