The latest edition of Freedom in the World, the annual report compiled by U.S.-based rights watchdog Freedom House, has listed Tajikistan among Not Free societies again.

The Freedom House report, Freedom in the World 2019: Democracy in Retreat, evaluates the civil rights and political liberties of 195 countries during 2018.

The findings for Freedom in the World 2019, which were released on February 4 reflect a complex picture for the state of global freedom.

In 2018, Freedom in the World recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.

Of the 195 countries assessed, 86 (44 percent) were rated Free, 59 (30 percent) Partly Free, and 50 (26 percent) Not Free.

Of five Central Asia’s nations, only Kyrgyzstan is designated as Partly Free, while Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are designated as Not Free.   

Of the 50 countries designated as Not Free, the following 13 reportedly have the worst aggregate scores for political rights and civil liberties (beginning with the least free): Syria, South Sudan, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, North Korea, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Central African Republic, and Libya.

The report notes that entrenched elites in many Eurasian countries continued exploiting the advantages of incumbency to maintain their grip on power. 

Uzbekistan reportedly experienced another year of incremental improvement, as the government continued to release political prisoners and ease restrictions on NGOs.  However, reports of torture persisted, as did the long-standing practice of forced labor in the cotton fields, according to Freedom House.

Journalists and activists in Russia and other countries continued to operate under perilous conditions, risking arrest, violence, and even death for their independent reporting in 2018.  Several Russian journalists died under suspicious circumstances, while in Ukraine, reporters endured harassment and assaults.  In Kazakhstan and Belarus, strict new media laws further limited journalists who were already operating under severe constraints.

Some governments stepped up internet censorship in order to stamp out dissent.  The report says Kyrgyz government used laws against extremism to block websites, video-sharing platforms, and even the music-streaming service SoundCloud, while Tajikistan blocked independent media websites and social networks.