- More than half (51%) of the global population is now living in a country categorised as ‘in crisis’. This is the lowest score for freedom of expression worldwide for twenty years.
Where is the situation at its worst?
- Countries with the largest populations – and typically, the greatest influence – tend to be in steep decline, or are already in crisis. China, India, Turkey, Russia, Bangladesh, and Iran are all categorised as ‘in crisis’.
- Countries like the USA, Brazil, Hungary and Tanzania are showing concerning declines.
Why the decline?
- We have seen a deterioration of the right to speak, to know and to be heard over years, but 2019 created a perfect storm, with the confluence of protests, internet shutdowns and the increased attacks against journalists and human rights defenders.
- While this report focuses on the state of freedom of expression in 2019, we have seen a further decline in 2020, with misinformation spread online and offline.
- Many governments have used the global pandemic as a pretext to further restrict expression online, in the media, and on the streets.
- In 2019, people took to the streets to make themselves heard in huge numbers. 2019 saw a 51% rise in the number of demonstrations from 2018, with activity increasing in 71% of countries.
- Unfortunately we have also seen a 106% rise in fatalities during demonstrations, with live rounds used against protesters and other riot-control measures, including so-called ‘less than lethal’ methods. The most dramatic example of this is in Chile, where nearly 300 people were blinded.
- At the end of 2019, 250 journalists remained in prison, 98% of whom are local journalists. The worst jailers are China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, followed by Eritrea, Vietnam, and Iran.
- 57 journalists were killed in 2019, with an impunity rate of around 90%.
- 304 human rights defenders were killed in 2019. 40% of those killed worked on land, indigenous’ peoples and environmental rights.
- There were 213 internet shutdowns across 33 countries in 2019.
Statistics by region
- The USA’s approach to transparency has been in decline in the latter part of President Trump’s first term. There was a rise in access to information denials in 2019, and local and state governments restricted press access to public events.
- The Justice Department continued to pursue charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the Espionage Act and seek his extradition from the UK.
- 28 journalists were killed in 2019 across the Latin America region.
- Brazil: President Bolsonaro personally made 10 attacks on journalists per month in 2019. Brazil is the biggest GxR decline over the one-, five-, and ten-year measures – a drop clearly accelerating with the arrival of Bolsonaro to power.
Europe and Central Asia
- The Council of Europe recorded 142 serious threats to media freedom in 2019. In the Europe and Central Asia region, there were at least 105 journalists behind bars at the end of 2019, 91 of them in Turkey.
- 2019 saw rising violence against journalists across Europe, including the killing of two journalists – Lyra McKee in Northern Ireland and Vadim Komorov in Ukraine. Daphne Caruana Galizia had 48 civil libel suits against her at her time of death.
Asia and the Pacific
- Three in every four people in Asia and the Pacific live in a crisis expression environment: this is the highest proportion of any region in the world.
- India’s government is the biggest abuser of Internet shutdowns. More than 50% of all shutdowns worldwide were imposed in India.
- 28% of journalists had legal issues affect their place of work. Maria Ressa, Editor and Founder of outlet Rappler, was arrested and charged in the Philippines (GxR Score 44) in February, facing multiple cases of cyber libel in attempts to intimidate the press and other critics of the Duterte government. Ressa was found guilty in June 2020, facing six years in prison (pending appeal).
- Murders were committed in Nigeria, Kenya, and Cameroon, among others. Journalists covering protests sustained serious injuries in Senegal, Nigeria, and Uganda. 2019 was the deadliest year in the Sahel for 20 years.
- Ethiopia has seen concerning violence against protesters in 2020, often intersecting with ethnic tension: more than 150 were killed amid violence by security forces.
- Zimbabwe: A few days before scheduled protests, six activists were abducted from their homes by masked men, interrogated and tortured, and left in remote locations.
Middle East and North Africa
- Targeted killings took place in Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, while defenders died in Algeria, Iran, Sudan, and the UAE.
- The government of Saudi Arabia executed 37 citizens, mostly protesters from Shia backgrounds, on 23 April 2019, using counter-terrorism law. The victims’ families were not notified of the executions.
- The longest internet shutdown in Iran’s history took place. In Egypt, news and political websites were blocked in April, and security forces continued to harass media outlets throughout 2019.