Experts comment on Belarus’ position in ‘Freedom House’ report

‘There is even less freedom in the world now’ is the conclusion of an influential human rights organization ‘Freedom House’ in its latest report. According to the estimates of experts, the situation with the global democracy has been deteriorating for 12 years in a row. Every fourth inhabitant of the planet including Belarusians lives in a non-free country. But Belarus has climbed one position in the ranking.

Democracy is in danger. Values ​​which it embodies are under threat worldwide. This follows from the ‘Freedom House’ human rights report for 2017.

“The first thing to say about our study is that it has been going on for decades, and we can measure the dynamics of freedom in the world,” said Vytis Jurkonis, director of ‘Freedom House’ office in Vilnius.

Thus the situation has been worsening for 12 years in a row. The countries with the highest level of democracy are marked green, while yellow marks partially free states. Red means the least amount of freedom. Belarus has once again found itself among such countries.

According to Aleh Aheyeu, lawyer of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, “For a long time we have not seen positive, global changes associated with the stabilization of the fundamental rights and freedoms. Thus our estimate of rights and freedoms is, in principle, the same as the estimate of the ‘Freedom House’.

Each ‘Freedom House’ reports considers 2 main factors: political rights and civil liberties. Countries are evaluated on a 100-point scale: the smaller, the worse. This year Belarus received 21 points — one more than in the previous report.

Vytis Jurkonis continues: “The authorities are also aware that we must at least open the window a little bit, that civil society, at least those working with the social issues, may be useful. I think that these reasons made it + 1”.

At the same time the window is closed in other areas of social and political life. Winter and Spring of 2017 were marked by protests against the decree on parasites. According to the assessment of the Belarusian human rights activists, the document violates the Constitution of Belarus and the Convention on Forced or Compulsory Labor. But the human rights violations became most obvious during the rough dispersal of the protest on 25 March.

On the same day, several journalists were arrested.

“The Belarusian Association of Journalists has summed up 2017, and it is clear that the number of arrests was more than in the previous 3 years altogether. The number of fines for journalists working with foreign media, including “Belsat”, has grown several times,” said Aleh Aheyeu, BAJ lawyer.

Last year alone, the amount of fines for their cooperation with our channel amounted to more than 40 thousand BYN.

“We get penalties so that we did not make the materials about the problems that officials should then solve,” says journalist Volha Chaychyts.

But there are those who criticize the ‘Freedom House’ report. In particular, Russian authorities, which traditionally ends up on the list of free countries. The organization is accused of political bias and promoting the interests of the White House. ‘Freedom House’ is indeed funded by the US government. But even Washington gets criticized by rights activists.

“The United States has moved away from its traditional role as protector of democracy during a sharp decline in political rights and civil liberties in America”.

This assessment of the United States indicates a serious crisis of global democracy. Among the main causes, human rights activists say, is the rise to power of populists and autocrats. According to the report, the most points wer lost by Turkey, which is controlled by Erdogan. the country’s status has changed to non-free. Russia was also called a threat to democracy.

Vytis Jurkonis said: “It is about the aggression in Ukraine and enough aggressive behavior with other neighboring countries, trolls and information warfare. This feeling is shared not only in the neighboring countries, but also in Europe. There are a lot of reports of interference in a variety of elections, even in that of the US”.

The elections in EU countries have also been affected. According to the evaluation organization, the refugee crisis has reinforced the position of the right-wing parties in elections in France, Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands that led to the expansion of xenophobia in these countries.

Conclusion of human rights defenders disappointing: a crisis of democracy affects the whole world and deepens every year.