A Bad Year for Freedom Across the Globe

If 2013 were a wine, you'd use it to kill weeds

The course of freedom and democracy in the world is an evolutionary process, though sometimes it proceeds in the wrong direction. Wines have good years and bad years. If 2013 were a wine, you'd use it to kill weeds.

Mohamed Morsi began the year as the first democratically elected president of Egypt. He ended it in a jail cell facing charges of treason, having been evicted in a military coup just 12 months after being inaugurated. When his supporters massed in protests following his overthrow, security forces killed nearly 1,000 of them.

Elsewhere in the region, the Arab Spring was a fading memory. Syria's Bashar al-Assad, one of the dictators who survived it, used poison gas against rebels before accepting international demands to give up his chemical arsenal. Chaos and terrorism were so prevalent in Libya that the prime minister was kidnapped by one militia and then freed by other militias.

Tunisia, where the democracy movement began, was characterized in Foreign Policy magazine as "the one place the Arab Spring hasn't gone to hell." Even there, unrest and division threatened disaster, which was averted when opposing parties agreed to establish a caretaker government until new elections next year.

South Africa's Nelson Mandela died a few months before the 20th anniversary of his country's rebirth as a multi-racial democracy. Back then, Mandela recalled later, "South Africans from every sector had reached out across the divisions of centuries, and averted a blood-bath which most observers believed inevitable, so much so that our smooth transition was hailed widely as a miracle."

The opposite of a miracle was on display in Zimbabwe, also once ruled by a white minority. President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled since 1980, prevailed in yet another fraudulent election and invited his opponents to "commit suicide if they wish. Even if they die, dogs will not sniff their carcasses."

Uhuru Kenyatta was elected president of Kenya while under indictment by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Ghana conducted its sixth consecutive peaceful election over two decades.

Across the continent, The Economist noted, "a remarkable change is taking place. The default means of allocating power in Africa now is to hold elections, and elections are generally becoming fairer."

The same doesn't hold in Russia, where Vladimir Putin regained the presidency he vacated in 2008. Human Rights Watch accused him of creating the worst human rights climate since the demise of the Soviet Union. Ukrainians massed in the streets for weeks demanding the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovich after he agreed to closer ties with Russia.

Last week, Putin tried to buff his image before the Winter Olympics in Sochi by announcing he would pardon members of the band Pussy Riot, 30 Greenpeace activists and his most prominent political prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Hundreds of Chinese were arrested for "rumor-mongering" online after President Xi Jinping urged Communist party officials to "seize the ground of new media." But the regime said it would relax its one-child policy and abolish its labor camps, where dissidents and other troublemakers are sent for "re-education."

Myanmar's President U Thein Sein admitted holding political prisoners and has come close to keeping his vow to release them all by year's end. In Thailand, critics rejected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's call for new elections. Demonstrators at Bangkok's Democracy Monument were in the incongruous position of requesting the formation of a government not chosen by the people.

The chief human rights official at the United Nations said North Korea's human rights violations have "no parallel anywhere in the world." The International Criminal Court faulted Afghan President Hamid Karzai for failing to act against "crimes against humanity (that) were and continue to be committed in Afghanistan." Asif Ali Zardari became the first elected president of Pakistan ever to serve out a full term.

Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez died, leaving a regime that Human Rights Watch concluded had "free rein to intimidate, censor and prosecute Venezuelans who criticized the president or thwarted his political agenda."

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff went to the UN to excoriate the U.S. National Security Agency for spying on her people. "The right to safety of citizens of one country," she declared, "can never be guaranteed by violating fundamental human rights of citizens of another country."

She might have added that violating the rights of one's own citizens is also a bad idea. But, judging from this year, it's a bad idea whose time has not yet passed.

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  • CatoTheElder||

    2013 was a mixed bag for individual freedom across the globe ex the US. For the US, it was another very bad year. As the historic touchstone for the idea of individual liberty, the decline of individual liberty in the US makes it a bad year for the world at large.

  • BigT||

    American leadership: NSA, IRS, ACA, SS.

  • Acosmist||

    On the one hand, the Arab Spring is a fading memory. So, that's a bad thing, right? But then there's chaos and terrorism in Libya, blown in on the wind of the Arab Spring.

    So, wat.

    Oh, Chapman. That explains it.

  • Free Society||

    On the one hand, the Arab Spring is a fading memory. So, that's a bad thing, right? But then there's chaos and terrorism in Libya, blown in on the wind of the Arab Spring.

    The Arab Spring was hardly a mass expression for freedom. Everyone one of these opposition coalitions are dominated by Islamists.

    The Western media and governments focus the narrative on the tiny amount of participating secular liberals who will, they say, transform the middle east into Europe if only we'd have the decency to bomb some dictators. But you know it's bad when Steve Chapman of all people says it was a bad year for freedom.

  • BigT||

    NPR featured Obama's bad year this am. No mention of the NSA scandal, IRS scandal, Benghazi, or the lie of the year.

    It was a much worse year than they understand...or are willing to admit.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    It's just obstructionists all the way down

  • Free Society||

    And far right radical fascist extremists like libertarians. That's literally what I heard on NPR this morning.

  • PaulW||

    Ah, but we are centrists, at least in the U.S. it's an irrefutable point. Always turn that back on anyone stupid enough to try and label a libertarian as a right winger. We believe in the libertarian documents that founded this country. You can't get any more centrist than that.

  • Anvil||

    One cannot be "centrist" or "moderate" when the major parties both support the erosion of freedom and liberty.

    One either supports those tenets or does not.

  • Free Society||

    Yeah centrists and moderates by definition are non-ideological pragmatists or party-line types. Libertarians are ideological and principled so I'm not sure where you get the idea that your claim is 'irrefutable'.

  • ||

    Well, you could be optimistic and argue that the bringing to light of the NSA's data collection efforts, along with Obamacare being another shining example of the abject failure of large scale command and control efforts, and the beacon of failure that is socialist France's efforts to stimulate the economy via over-taxation, and the rollback of the drug war in CO WA Uruguay means that this year was a good year for Freedom.

    But Bah Humbug.

  • SIV||

    It was another good year for MARRIAGE EQUALITY. John D Rockefeller and Cornelius Vanderbilt couldn't buy an Xbox ONE even if they combined their vast fortunes. A&E struck a blow for Freedom From Religion by banning that ChristFag from West Redneckistan.

  • Joao||

    State-sanctioned sexuality and forced vanilla atheism?

    Nah, liberty is where it's at.

  • Floridian||

    But the chocolate ration was increased wasn't it? WASNT IT!?!!!!?!

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    That was more than offset by the quality decline in Victory cigarettes.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Gays can get gay married now!!!

  • sarcasmic||

    And women can get free birth control thanks to ObamaCare.

    Gay marriage and birth control. What else is there?

  • Acosmist||

    cocktailz

  • AlmightyJB||

    What else is there?

    Inequality? Rape culture? White privilege?

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    When did the skin get deleted from white skin privilege?

  • Tim||

    Freedom is an American invasion.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I thought it was just another word for nothing left to lose?

  • Tim||

    Ask those Syrians whose freedom was denied.

  • James Taggart||

    Guess they lost it after all.

  • Agammamon||

    After the invasion, when your home is burned down, the city is mostly rubble and you're searching through the FOB's garbage pile for scraps from MRE's then you'll have nothing left to lose and, hence, will be truly free.

    Granted, that sort of freedom is more likely to spawn a bunch of Jokers than anything else.

  • AlmightyJB||

    See if you just give governments more power, they take care of everything. You no longer have to worry your pretty little head about what to eat, who to vote for, what to spend your money on or any of that nonsense.

  • sarcasmic||

    As long as there are wise people in government giving permission and issuing orders, you are free from any responsibility for your actions. After all, you asked permission and obeyed orders. How can you be responsible?

  • James Taggart||

    And, with political correctness enforcers, you know what to think.

  • John Galt||

    Morsi? It would be best that we hand Obama over to the Egyptians so they can try him for his part in the year long Morsi murder spree.

  • Other John||

    I know as a libertarian were not in to banning things, but we (writers and reporters of this ilk included) should refrain from using the word democracy. Especially we should avoid substituting it in, as though it were synonymous with liberty.

    We, American style libertarians, hold individual liberty, arising from property rights, as the highest political goal. Democracy as a means of election is only valuable if it serves that goal (it almost always does not).

    It was a bad year for liberty would be a much better title. Leave the majority rule nonsense to the Rawls "high-liberal"/progressives.

  • R C Dean||

    Democracy promotes freedom to the extent it facilitates rapid and regular turnover of those in power. And in no other way, as far as I can tell.

  • Free Society||

    Pretty much. Democracy is only a means of disseminating power, not a noble goal in and of itself. It can only promote liberty insofar as the political culture values liberty, which is rare these days.

  • Knarf Yenrab (prev. An0nB0t)||

    I'm fond of the idea of a negative referendum whose sole power is to repeal unpopular laws.

  • Free Society||

    Yeeah I've given that some thought too. Or even a sort of negative legislature or 3rd chamber of Congress whose sole authority would be the repeal and invalidation of laws.

    Some of the charter cities being discussed, to create Hong Kong-like autonomous regions, might use Common Law as a source of law and then a negative referendum or legislature process as it's sole democratically elected legislative body. (there may hypothetically be no 'positive' legislature as it were)

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The "Arab Spring" narrative was a concoction of and by the Intellectual Left and the mainstream media. It had approximately the same relationship to reality as the "Affable Uncle Joe Stalin" narrative of the 1930's & '40's. Granted, it disintegrated far more quickly, but the Arabs weren't really all that invested in the narrative, so that isn't too surprising. The dissolving of the Arab Spring says little Middle East, but a great deal about the people in the West who think they know what is going on there and highlights the international incompetence of the White House and the State Department.

  • R C Dean||

    I find it deeply weird that Exhibit A in the list of setbacks for freedom is the booting of an Islamist dictator wanna-be and the quashing of his supporters militia. Chapman seems to have fallen into the fallacy of "democracy = doubleplus good freedom".

  • Free Society||

    All Steve Chapman articles should come with a disclaimer warning potential readers of the high levels of fallacious reasoning to be found within.

  • Almanian!||

    It continues to be a bad year for Alt Text...

  • Eric Bana||

    Of all these, what's happening Venezuela is the most revolting to me. I remember being forced to read a book about Latin America for a college class written by the worst kind of leftist. The author predicted Chavez was going to make Venezuela the richest and fairest country in Latin America. I hope somebody gave him a strong punch to the face.

  • backtothegarden||

    Punch who, Chavez or the author?

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    Hasn't the theme throughout history been that threatened individual history is the norm rather than the exception?

    Continuing with this assertion, if accepted, isn't this article par for the course?

  • ReeceExaminer||

    "Democracy has nothing to do with freedom. Democracy is a soft variant of communism, and rarely in the history of ideas has it been taken for anything else." -Hans Hoppe

  • SuperOBD SKP-100||

    I'm also looking for freedom.

  • VicRattlehead||

    Dunno what this mash of contradictions is going on about. As far as freedom, you have freedom until you fear them. Freedom is only a state of mind, if the government says i cannot own a gun because it is now illegal and i keep it in my gun safe and tell no one of my decision have i been made any less free? Am I the law breaker when those in power broke the laws that said they couldn't create that law in the first place or am I just a person living the life given to me by the all maker. Can freedom even be taken from you without you willingly ceding it, unless the oppressor extracts it from you with violence and force at which point he becomes that which is abhorrent and you become the martyr. I say we are as free as we choose to be, the laws of man be damned, we were given the moral guidance needed to be finally free centuries ago those of us who wish to live by those guidelines have no need for external governance and no fear of death we few truly have ascended to the state of mind which enables freedom, a freedom which no external force can take away no matter how heavy the chains of oppression.

  • ACAB86||

    "Syria's Bashar al-Assad, one of the dictators who survived it, used poison gas against rebels before accepting international demands to give up his chemical arsenal." there is no evidence the government was responsible, in fact it would be really dumb to invite UN inspectors into your country to only use CW's during their visit. the rebels are responsible if you ask me, just youtube the FSA making chemical weapons and you can see the Turkish chemicals being tested on rabbits.

  • ACAB86||

    you can even find videos of the terrorist organization launching chemical weapons...I don't know how clearer it has to be.

  • harleyrider1778||

    John BaNshafts merry f####N xmas message for smokers

    Why It’s a Very Merry Christmas for Nonsmokers // More Protections, Less Burden From Smoking’s Costs

    WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 24, 2013): It’s an especially Merry Christmas for nonsmokers this year since they will enjoy more protections and bear less of the costly financial burdens of smoking than ever before

    PRLog (Press Release) – Dec. 24, 2013 – WASHINGTON, D.C. — WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 24, 2013): It’s an especially Merry Christmas for nonsmokers this year since they will enjoy more protections and bear less of the costly financial burdens of smoking than ever before, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, “The Man Behind the Ban on Cigarette Commercials” and “One of the Most Vocal and Effective Anti-Tobacco Attorneys.”

    Here are just some of the reasons why.

    Under Obamacare, smokers are being charged up to 50% more for their health insurance than

    nonsmokers and, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, the British Medical Journal, and elsewhere, imposing a smoker surcharge can slash smoking rates among employees by 50%.

  • harleyrider1778||

    “This is the first time that smokers are being forced to accept some personal responsibility for their habit,” says Banzhaf, who lobbied for the smoker surcharge. Smoking costs the American economy some $300 billion a year, and each smoking worker can cost his employer over $12,000 more each year. So, as smoking is reduced, businesses have more money for nonsmoking employers, taxpayers pay lower taxes, and insurance rates for over 80% of all Americans are lower than they would otherwise be.

    Well over 100 jurisdictions – including New Jersey, North Dakota, and Utah, and many major cities including Boston, Seattle, and Indianapolis – have now banned the use of e-cigarettes in any place where the smoking of conventional cigarettes is prohibited. Their vapor contains propylene glycol (a respiratory irritant known to cause respiratory tract infections), nicotine (a highly addictive and deadly drug which can trigger heart attacks), and several chemicals the FDA terms “harmful and potentially harmful.”

    Since so many states followed the lead of the Big Apple when it first banned smoking in workplaces, restaurants, and bars, it’s likely that many additional states will again follow NYC and restrict the smoking of e-cigarettes after NYC adopted its comprehensive ban just last week to protect nonsmokers.

  • harleyrider1778||

    Banzhaf was one of the first to publicize the dangers e-cigarettes pose to bystanders – especially to children, the elderly, and those with a wide variety of medical conditions – and helped get the initial bans in New Jersey and elsewhere adopted. Since NYC also passed a law raising the legal age to purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21, it’s likely that other states will also follow this lead.

    Many states – including Hawaii, New Mexico, New York, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington – continue to raise their cigarette taxes, with many cities and other jurisdictions doing the same.

    The highest tax as the year ends in $5.85/pack. As a result, the great majority of taxpayers are paying lower taxes, and smokers are being forced to bear more of the financial burden or quit.

    In other areas, legislators and judges are increasingly willing to protect tenants bothered by drifting and/or recirculating tobacco smoke from other apartments and condos, more companies are declining to hire smokers, there are more laws banning smoking in cars when a child is present, and there is growing public support for hitting smokers with hiring bans, higher taxes/surcharges, and other measures.

    JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.

    http://www.prlog.org/12260305-.....costs.html

    If a man ever needed hung this is the one!

  • MaggieMansfielddva||

    uptil I saw the draft for $8854, I accept ...that...my brother was like realie earning money in their spare time online.. there brothers friend haz done this 4 only about seven months and recently paid for the depts on there home and bought a gorgeous volvo. see page
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  • Chesty Puller USMC||

    Most of the nations mentioned in this article have never popped into mind when personal liberties are mentioned. The saddest indictment is against the one nation that used to pop into mind right off when personal liberties were mentioned: the United States of America. Many of us old timers have been watching the erosion of American liberties for over 40 years as more and more uneducated, but possibly well meaning, voters continue to vote for the very people whose mission it is to destroy America and its Constitution in favor of eastern European and Asian socialism; all the while these very nations escalate their war on human rights and fiscal proflicacy. Why these people think things would be any different for America could be a thesis on the Idiocracy that is firmly entrenched in the social fabric. The NSA has a tough job with surveillance since many of America's enemies are already here and plotting their next attack while hiding behind our Contitution but it is a delicate balancing act. The vocal critics of the NSA may be the very people intent on destroying America from within. We don't need to give up liberty for safety but we probably shouldn't give up safety either.
    The American experiment came to a head in the 60's and we now have the counter culture at the helm. The results will be calamitous but the pain of indentured servitude to the federal system will be borne mostly by the the younger generation who voted with emotion instead of vision.

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