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Freedom spreads in the world despite war on terror, study shows

| Friday, Jan. 17, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) — Countries around the world witnessed no major loss of civil liberties in 2002, even as they struggled to find a balance between security and freedom in the fight against terrorism, according to an annual report on world democracy.

Still, the progress of countries of the Middle East and North Africa remained stagnant, not only in the last year, but since the survey began in 1972, the nonprofit group Freedom House reports it its "Freedom in the World" report.

According to the report, the world showed "significant gains" for freedom in 2002 in several countries — including Brazil, Turkey and Yugoslavia — and the number of nations designated as free outnumbered those designated as not free by 3 to 1.

"Not only is democracy holding its own and expanding, there is a growing understanding that one of the keys to fighting terrorism is political reform," Freedom House President Adrian Karatnycky said. "The more democratic a government becomes, less is the appeal of these extremist groups."

Freedom House, a Washington-based, nonpartisan group, was founded nearly 60 years ago by Americans — including Eleanor Roosevelt — concerned about threats to democracy. It conducts advocacy, research and training to encourage and nurture democracy.

According to the group, there were "some missteps and some overreach" by democratic countries in their efforts to combat terror.That was a reference to the detention of hundreds of immigrants on visa violations for months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and other "advanced democracies," Karatnycky said.

Twenty-three countries recorded improvements in political rights and civil liberties in 2002, while 11 saw negative trends, according to the report. Ivory Coast, riven by a rebel uprising since September, was the only country to drop from "partly free" to "not free."

The report draws a tentative correlation between freedom and Islam, saying that the number of predominantly Muslim states classified as "not free" grew from 23 in 1972 to 27 this year, while in the non-Islamic world, the number of free countries grew from 41 to 87.

It said that there had been "virtually no significant progress toward democratization" in the Middle East and North Africa since 1972.

But the report was careful not to draw a direct link, noting freedom was limited in many Muslim countries because they have monarchies resistant to change and governments that came to power in military coups.

"We would say that it is not necessarily a correlation with religion, and believe it's that these extremist groups hijack religion," Karatnycky said.

The report noted gains in many Muslim countries, including Senegal, Bahrain, and Afghanistan after the ouster of the Taliban, and noted that the majority of the world's Muslims live under elected democracies.

Freedom House divides countries into three categories: free, partly free and not free. A score of one indicates great freedom, while a seven shows no freedom at all.

Forty-seven of the world's 192 countries were rated "not free," and nine received the lowest rating. They were Burma, Cuba, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan and Saudi Arabia.

The number of people living in free countries rose from 1.3 billion to 2.6 billion, but the number of people living in countries deemed not free also rose — from 1.7 billion to 2.1 billion, with about 60 percent living in China.

Turkey and Brazil recorded the most progress. Turkey elected a moderate party with Islamic roots and loosened restrictions on its Kurd minority last year, while Brazil elected a leftist leader for the first time.

Yugoslavia entered the free category with its "vibrance of civil life, improvements in free media and gains in the rule of law," the report said.

Setbacks in 2002 came in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe's policy of seizing white-owned farm has pushed the country to the brink of famine, and in the Russian republic of Chechnya, where a rebel insurgency persists, the report said.

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