This blog is for those wanting to keep up to date on all the work that the Vermont Council on World Affairs is doing around the world.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Regimes Without Freedom

Regimes Without Freedom
Tori Breese-VCWA Intern
In 2017, Freedom House ranked 49 countries in the world as “not free.” These nations make up 25% of the total number of countries in the world. In fact, according to Freedom House, 2016 was the eleventh year in a row where global freedom declined (Aghekyan et. al). As Americans, we are prone to forgetting that a large portion of the world’s population does not have all of the same civil liberties that we do, such as freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech. Understanding how these regimes function politically and economically is essential to comprehending the state of international relations today. These regimes span the globe and have a wide array of differences between them. Just a few examples of such nations are China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Cuba. The uniting factor between all of these countries is their lack of civil liberties.
With the recent discussion of “fake news” in the United States, we should recognize the fact that our constitution guarantees a free press. None of the non-democratic regimes mentioned have this liberty. For example, just last month, Winnie the Pooh was blacklisted in China because of comparisons between the character and the Chinese President Xi Jinping (Lee). While this might seem like a silly example, Chinese censorship has serious implications. Anything mocking or criticizing the government is removed from the press and internet. Censorship therefore prevents people from even seeing news that conflicts with the ideals of the Chinese Communist Party. Maintaining control over what citizens see and hear allows those in power to prevent people from uprising against the government. Russia offers another serious example of the consequences of a lacking freedom of the press. In 2006, Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist who was critical of Putin, was assassinated. Five men were convicted for carrying out the murder, yet it was “clear that this was a contract killing, with $150,000 paid by ‘a person unknown” (Dejevsky).  Therefore, it is not clear who exactly ordered her death, however, it is noteworthy that she was shot on Putin’s birthday, suggesting that the attack was politically motivated. This example demonstrates the fact that journalists in these countries may want to report critically on the government, yet out of fear of retaliation, they may refrain from critiquing those in power.
In Saudi Arabia, one of the most strictly controlled news topics is religion. Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the United States, lacks the freedom of religion. “Islam is the official religion, and all Saudis are required by law to be Muslims. A 2014 royal decree punishes atheism with up to 20 years in prison.” (Aghekyan et. al). Furthermore, the monarchy is governed by Sharia law.  Not only is the religion unanimous, but also it governs the legal system in the regime. Although the government strictly controls worship, an inconceivable act in the United States, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia remain close allies despite their differences. The Saudi government uses religious control to legitimize its monarchy. The Saudi king is thought to not only uphold Islam, but also be restrained by it (Ochsenwald and Philby).
One of the most basic yet most attacked civil liberties is  the freedom of speech. Guaranteed by the first amendment in our constitution, the freedom of speech is often taken for granted here in the United States. In countries such as North Korea, this freedom is nonexistent. The consequences for speaking out against the regime are severe. “The state maintains a system of camps for political prisoners where torture, forced labor, starvation, and other atrocities take place” (Aghekyan et. al). This intense control stabilizes Kim Jong Un’s hold on power. Turning to Cuba, “the Cuban government has refused to guarantee Cuban freedom of speech or peaceful assembly for native Cubans” (FHRC). From books, to movies, to the Internet, Cubans are restricted. Cuba actually has the most restrictive freedom of speech in the Americas, only allowing freedom of speech that conforms to a socialist society (Aghekyan et. al). This control allows Castro to ensure that his people conform not only to his political philosophy, but also his economic ideals. In both of these examples, the reason behind prohibiting freedom of speech is governmental stability.
Although the aforementioned regimes are significantly different from our own, as global citizens, we must take the time to consider the ramifications of the conditions that so many of the world’s people live under. While we may or may not agree with the policies of these regimes, it is paramount that we show compassion for our fellow human beings and respect for different ways of life. One way this effort is achieved is through citizen diplomacy. Ultimately, citizen diplomats work to understand people from around the world.

Works Cited
Aghekyan et. al. “Freedom in the World 2017.” Freedom House,
Dejevsky, Mary. “Who Really Did Kill Russian Journalist Anna Politkovskaya?” The Independent, 13 June 2014.
Lee, Yen Nee. “China Just Blacklisted Winnie the Pooh.” CNBC, 17 July 2017.
Ochsenwald, William L., and Harry St. John Bridger Philby. “Saudi Arabia.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 23 June 2017.

“The Long Road: Pursuing Cuban Freedom of Speech.” Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba,