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The 15 Least Free Countries In The World

Business Insider logo Business Insider 2/11/2015 nbertrand@businessinsider.com (Natasha Bertrand)

Freedom House released its annual Freedom in the World report this week, rating each of the world's nations according to the political rights and civil liberties of their people. 

The report found that overall freedom in the world dropped for the ninth consecutive year, with nearly twice as many countries suffering declines in freedom as registering gains.

The number of countries whose freedom improved is at its lowest point in nine years. 

The report found a growing disdain for democracy in nearly all regions of the world, with losses in personal freedom often coming in the form of increased state surveillance and restrictions on internet communications. 

Of the 195 countries assessed, 26% were rated "Not Free," with ratings for the Middle East and North Africa among the worst of the world's regions.

1. Belarus

© Provided by Business Insider Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka heads an authoritarian regime notorious for crushing any and all forms of political dissent. 

Term limits don't exist and key opposition figures are often prevented from running for office, according to Freedom House. As a result, opposition parties have no representation in the Belarusian National Assembly. 

Belarusian national television is controlled by the government and dissenting views are not presented.  As more and more Belarusians gain access to the internet, the government is trying to expand its control to the web. Social networking sites are blocked, and online opposition activists are regularly harassed and threatened.  

2. Somalia

© Provided by Business Insider The political process in anarchic Somalia is largely driven by clan loyalty, according to Freedom House. 

While Somalia's current parliament is highly regarded by the international community, Somali citizens exercise little power over the system and have limited, if any, access to their representatives.

Somalia's new government, which took power last December, also controls the media with a heavy hand. Somalia is plagued by lawlessness: though technically illegal, female genital mutilation is still widely practiced on nearly all young Somali girls. 

The prevalence of armed groups like the jihadist organization al Shabaab, and the government's relatively limited ability to counter them, makes the state of civil and political rights incredibly dire even without an oppressive state apparatus.

3. Equatorial Guinea

© Provided by Business Insider Political opposition in Equatorial Guinea is limited and kept under strict control by the regime, according to Freedom House. The ruling party has almost complete control over the media, judiciary, police, and military. Corruption is rampant. 

Press censorship by the government is authorized under a 1992 law, Facebook is blocked, and libel is a criminal offense. The government engages in arbitrary arrests and frequently detains its political opponents on charges of "destabilization." 

4. South Sudan

© Provided by Business Insider South Sudan achieved independence from Sudan in 2011, but political violence and mass killings along ethnic lines threatened to make it a failed state, according to Freedom House.

The President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, has sweeping powers and cannot be impeached. In 2013, Kiir dismissed his entire cabinet and the vice president, while opposition parties still have virtually no real political power. 

Security forces operate with impunity and serious abuses are regularly carried out against civilians with the full knowledge or on the orders of senior commanders. 

5. Chad

© Provided by Business Insider Chad has never held entirely free and fair elections, according to Freedom House. President Idriss Déby, a former military commander, ousted dictator Hissène Habré in 1990 has been president ever since. 

Déby has complete control over the judicial and legislative branches of government, and his ethnic group — the Zaghawa — controls Chad’s political and economic systems. This has fomented resentment among the more than 200 ethnic groups that live in Chad. 

Chad is a notorious source, transit, and destination country for child trafficking, a problem the government has done little to address.  

6. Central African Republic

© Provided by Business Insider A coup by the rebel group Séléka in March 2013 left the already poverty-stricken Central African Republic highly unstable and isolated by the international community. The current regime is nontransparent and unelected. 

The proliferation of armed groups throughout the country — including combatants from the Lord’s Resistance Army in the southeast — has become a serious problem: the UN estimates that up to 6,000 children are currently fighting for one of C.A.R.'s rebel factions, according to Freedom House

7. Sudan

© Provided by Business Insider Sudan's first multiparty elections in 24 years were held in 2010 but failed to meet international standards for fair and free elections, according to Freedom House. 

Sudan is considered one of the world's most corrupt countries. Favored ethnic groups have tight control over the national economy, while other groups remain neglected and impoverished. A government-appointed Press Council regulates the media, and the law prohibits conversion to any religion other than Islam. 

The regime in Khartoum is also undertaking brutal counter-insurgency campaigns in Darfur, Blue Nile, and Southern Khordofan, with 450,000 people displaced by fighting in Darfur in 2014 alone.

8. Uzbekistan

© Provided by Business Insider Uzbekistan's government has suppressed all political opposition. Activists and journalists in the country face physical violence, prosecution, fines, and arbitrary detention. There are also no free elections, according to Freedom House.

Free speech is severely restricted to the point that recording artists must obtain special licenses from the government to perform in public. 

Forced labor is also a serious problem: the US State Department found in 2014 that  “Uzbekistan remains one of only a handful of governments around the world that subjects its citizens to forced labor through implementation of state policy.” 

9. Turkmenistan

© Provided by Business Insider None of Turkmenistan’s elections since the country achieved independence in 1991 have been free or fair, according to Freedom House

President Berdymukhammedov rules with an authoritarian hand, and it is well known that many public officials bribed their way into office.  Things as simple as attending university or receiving medical care typically require some kind of bribe and ar bitrary evictions and confiscation of property are commonplace.

The government controls nearly all broadcast and print media.  The country's main internet service provider is also run by the government, which routinely blocks websites it deems undesirable. 

10. Cuba

© Provided by Business Insider Cuba has become more free since Fidel Castro stepped down as president in 2008, but is still considered "not free" by Freedom House's standards.

Cuba's one-party political system is dominated by the Communist Party. Political dissent is a punishable offense, and the Cuban government has continued its use of short-term “preventative” detentions to intimidate the opposition.

The Cuban news media is owned and run by the state and few Cubans have access to the Internet since it is so expensive — one hour of computer time at an internet café costs the equivalent of a week’s average salary.  

11. Saudi Arabia

© Provided by Business Insider Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy with a legal system based on Sharia law. The Koran and the Sunna (the traditions of the prophet Muhammad) are the country’s constitution and political dissent is criminalized, according to Freedom House.

Members of the Saudi royal family own stakes in news outlets in multiple countries and they largely control domestic media content. Journalists and activists have been jailed for expressing dissent online. 

All Saudis are required by law to be Muslims, and the public practice of any religion other than Islam is strictly forbidden. Shiites and Sufis are heavily restricted in their worship. Women are not permitted to drive cars or leave the home without a male relative accompanying them. 

12. Syria

© Provided by Business Insider Syria's collapse into civil war has produced more than 2 million refugees, 5 million internally displaced persons, and nearly 130,000 fatalities, according to Freedom House

President Bashar al-Assad's attempts to defeat Syria's armed factions have resulted in the indiscriminate killing of civilians using air strikes, artillery bombardments, and chemical weapons. Tens of thousands of people have been arrested and tortured since the uprising began in 2011 and Syrian journalists are frequently kidnapped and executed.  

13. Eritrea

© Provided by Business Insider This small east African nation has been designated "not free" by Freedom House for the 16th consecutive year. 

Eritrea has only one real political party — the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice — which is subordinate to longtime President Isaias Afwerki, who was not democratically elected, according to Freedom House. 

Afwerki's rule has taken a  harshly authoritarian turn since 2000. Independent media is prohibited from operating in Eritrea and the government currently controls all broadcasting outlets. Academic and religious freedom is also constrained, and citizens have limited freedom of movement in and out of the country.  

14. China

© Provided by Business Insider China's president Xi Jingping launched an aggressive anti-graft campaign in 2013, promising to crack down on corrupt officials and business leaders both at home and abroad.

This campaign has come at the expense of civil and political liberties, according to Freedom House, and judicial oversight of party actions has been notably absent since the campaign began. Civil society organizations, labor leaders, and academics are regularly investigated and often harassed by government officials.

The Chinese Communist Party does not tolerate any form of organized opposition — more than 190 political reform activists were detained during 2014 alone. 

15. North Korea

© Provided by Business Insider North Korea, which functions as a single-party state under a totalitarian family dictatorship, is the least free country in the world, according to Freedom House

Corruption and bribery are pervasive at every level of the state and the economy. Internet access is restricted to a few thousand, high-ranking people, and academic freedom does not exist: all curriculum must be approved by the state.

All forms of protest and collective bargaining are illegal and there is no independent judiciary. Political dissidents are either executed or sent to prison camps, where many of them die from extreme hunger or exhaustion.  

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