In a worldwide survey, a democracy watchdog organization said 90 countries respect a broad array of basic human rights and political freedom while 103 countries fail to some degree to observe standards of liberal democracy.
Eight countries were judged by Freedom House, the New York-based organization, to have the most repressive regimes. They were Cuba, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Two restive territories, Chechnya and Tibet, "whose inhabitants suffer intense repression," the organization said, were placed in the lowest category, as well.
Violent repression of protests of food prices in Myanmar, or Burma as it is commonly known, contributed to a further downward trend in the South Asian country, now devastated by a staggering cyclone.
Within the eight countries and two territories "state control over daily life is pervasive and wide-ranging, independent organizations and political opposition are banned or suppressed and fear of retribution for independent thought and action is part of daily life," said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, in issuing the annual report.
Ranked only slightly better than "the worst of the worst" were Belarus, Chad, China, Equitorial Guinea, Eritrea, Laos, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Zimbabwe as well as the Western Sahara territory of North Africa. They severely suppress opposition political activity, impede independent organizing and censor or punish criticism of the state, Windsor said.
Increased corruption and controls on non-governmental organizations placed Chad on the list for the first time. The African country replaced another, Cote d'Ivoire, in this group while the "worst of the worst" remained the same.
Syria showed a downward trend, the report said. While it held elections, candidates' eligibility was tightly circumscribed, new measures to control Internet activity were adopted and prominent reformers were sentenced for signing a declaration supporting Lebanese sovereignty.
Summing up world trends in an interview, Arch Puddington, director of research at Freedom House, said "even while global freedom has stagnated in the past decade we had seen a decline in the 'worst of the worst' countries." But, he said, "that process seems to have come to at least a temporary halt as the 'worst of the worst' countries seem to be pushing back."