Which countries have seen the biggest declines in political and civil rights over the last several years? Pro-democracy watchdog Freedom House has the answers in its latest Freedom in the World rankings. Freedom House rates each country on a scale of 0 to 100, with 40 points devoted to political rights and 60 to civil liberties. Four of the five biggest declines in that score over the last five years have come from African nations. Here, the five worst performers:
Last year, Kim Kardashian irked human rights activists by tweeting "I'm in love with The Kingdom of Bahrain" while visiting the country to promote a franchise called Millions of Milkshakes. Why the anger? The ruling Al Khalifa family has been especially harsh in handing down lengthy prison sentences to opposition activists. Earlier this month, Bahrain's highest court upheld a ruling that condemned 20 activists to prison, including eight life sentences. Activists abroad are still trying to free Nabeel Rajab, the head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, who according to the BBC was jailed for encouraging "illegal gatherings."
This West African country moved from the classification "Partly Free" to "Not Free" thanks to what The New York Times called the "cocaine coup," an uprising by the military that, months before a presidential runoff election, turned the country into perhaps the biggest center for drug trafficking in Africa. Since then, the national legislature has been suspended and opposition parties have been harassed. Amnesty International warned that the severe beatings of two government critics in October would only add to the "rapid deterioration of the human rights situation in the country and the pervasive climate of fear."
In August, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh executed nine prisoners without warning and declared that his government would kill all of the country's remaining death row inmates by September, setting off a firestorm of criticism from the international community. Jammeh, who gained power in a 1994 coup, later halted the executions amid growing pressure. Still, the prisoners (many of whom are reportedly political) aren't completely out of the woods. According to Al Jazeera, Jammeh claimed that he would resume the executions if the country experienced an "increase in violent crime."
Political and economic instability still plague Madagascar years after former disc jockey Andry Rajoelina led a military-supported coup against then-President Marc Ravalomanana in 2009. According to Freedom House, the country's problems, including "intimidation of journalists, violence in the south, and a rise in human trafficking," have only gotten worse. While Rajoelina's recent announcement that he was "ready to make a democratic transition" by not running in the May presidential elections is a positive sign, observers fear what might happen if the exiled Ravalomanana tries to rally his supporters.
The most precipitous decline in the history of the Freedom in the World report belongs to Mali. The country started 2012 with a rating of "Free" before a rebellion by ethnic Tuaregs set the stage for a military uprising, which led to the overthrow of democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Toure. Soon al-Qaeda-linked rebels claimed the north, causing some African officials to dub the region the "Afghanistan of West Africa." This month, French armed forces entered Mali to stop the march of rebels toward the capital, creating fears of a military quagmire that could have serious repercussions for neighboring countries, Europe, and the United States. The worst-case scenario, according to NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, is that France's intervention attracts terrorists from other countries, turning what was a local conflict into a "global terrorism problem."