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Four of the decade’s top 10 Decliners are countries in Europe and Central Asia. This reflects the region’s creeping erosion of institutions and the slow consolidation of power in the hands of strongman politicians in recent years.

Seventy-eight percent of the population of the Europe and Central Asia region live in countries which saw a decline in Freedom of Expression scores in one of our key time periods over the past decade.

Table 23: Average scores for Europe and Central Asia, 2018

Theme Score
Civic Space 0.66
Digital 0.70
Media 0.64
Protection 0.69
Transparency 0.66
Freedom of Expression 0.65

Figure 26: Thematic Scores for Europe and Central Asia

Note: Figure 26 shows average thematic scores for ECA.

Table 24: Top and bottom five scores for Europe and Central Asia, 2018

Country Score
Denmark 0.94
Norway 0.94
Sweden 0.93
Switzerland 0.93
Estonia 0.93
Average 0.65
Turkey 0.07
Uzbekistan 0.07
Azerbaijan 0.05
Tajikistan 0.04
Turkmenistan 0.01

Across the East of the region, institutions are being hollowed out and power concentrated, collapsing the rule of law and separation of powers, as well as leveraging right-wing sentiment, national security concerns, and ‘traditional values’ to justify repression.

In 2018, two of the region’s worst strongmen, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev, secured new presidential terms. However, an attempt by Armenia’s President to hold onto power led to protests and a reformist opposition coalition rising to power.

Armenia’s Velvet Revolution created a democratic opening through which it rose to the 2nd quartile globally, up more than 20 position from 2017.

Feminists, migrants, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ+) community remained the scapegoats of strongman rulers in 2018.

Journalists are not only being failed by institutions but also having to step into their place as watchdogs, revealing webs of corruption and contesting undemocratic practice – and often paying the highest price for their crucial work. There was a rise in the number of physical attacks on journalists across the Council of Europe area over 2018.[1]

Civic Space continued to be restricted throughout 2018, with groups attacked, jailed, fined, and banned where they threaten to reveal misdeeds – or simply express dissent. Defenders of immigrants and asylum seekers were also targeted in a number of European countries, with criminal prosecutions against human rights defenders in Greece and France.[2]

.[1] Council of Europe, Freedom of Expression in 2018, April 2019, available at

[2] Front Line Defenders, Global Analysis 2018, 7 January 2019, available at