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Democracy in retreat around the world

By Daniel Dombey in Washington
Published: September 24 2007 22:00 | Last updated: September 24 2007 22:00

Democracy and good governance are on the retreat in a number of countries around the world, a wide-ranging report says on Tuesday.
The report, compiled by Freedom House, a US government-supported campaigning organisation, concludes that human rights and governance have worsened in Russia and Iran, arguing that corruption in Iran has intensified in spite of the campaign promises of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad.

It also indicates that states across the world are attempting to follow the model of China and Russia by seeking to modernise parts of their economy while keeping a central grip on power.
Among the countries that have achieved economic success while maintaining or intensifying what the report identifies as political repression are Libya, Tunisia and Algeria. It adds that Egypt has been both economically unsuccessful and politically repressive and that democratic developments have been stopped in their tracks by coups in Thailand and Bangladesh.
The survey of 30 countries comes as President George W. Bush prepares to address the United Nations on his “freedom agenda” for the world on Tuesday.
On taking office for the second time, Mr Bush pledged that America would seek to end “tyranny in our world”, and he prides himself on being a “dissident president”.
The White House says that “interrelated aspects of human freedom” will be at the heart of the president’s efforts during his time at the UN – whether the issue is Darfur, governance in Africa more generally, or the Middle East peace process.
But in an introductory essay to its survey, Freedom House highlights what it calls “the durability of a 21st century authoritarian capitalist model” pioneered by China.
It argues that Russia has followed a similar path of exploiting economic growth to minimise pressure for political reform and claims that Russia “has come to resemble the autocratic regimes of central Asia more than the consolidated democracies of eastern Europe”.
For the past two years “Russia could no longer be considered a democracy at all according to most metrics”, and is less democratic today than it was in 2005.
It highlights the high threshold for parties to be elected to the Russian parliament, opacity in the award of broadcasting licences, corruption, the rareness of jury trials and uneven enforcement of property rights.
“Civil society has been a clear target of the Russian government over the past two years,” Freedom House says.
On Iran, the report says that corruption has increased – as highlighted by cut-rate privatisations for favoured buyers and a failure to deposit billions of dollars in oil revenues in the national treasury on schedule.
It adds that restrictions on freedom of expression have worsened since Mr Ahmadi-Nejad was elected president in 2005.
“Journalists, particularly younger and less well-known ones, have little protection from arbitrary arrest and detention,” it says, adding that academics and non- governmental organisations with foreign contacts have increasingly been accused of breaking the law by committing “political offences”.