Global freedoms declined for a 17th consecutive year in 2022, but ongoing protests against repression in Iran and other authoritarian countries show that people’s desire for freedom is enduring and that no setback should be regarded as permanent, a US human rights watchdog says.
“Recent events in Iran are another reminder that millions of people are willing to call for democracy and defend their rights even at great personal risk,” Freedom House said in its annual report on freedoms around the world, released on March 9.
“So long as human beings remain true to their natural yearning for liberty, authoritarians will never be secure, and the global movement for democracy will never be defeated,” it also said.
Iran has been swept by protests demanding fundamental economic, social and political reforms since the September 2022 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police. Amini had been arrested for allegedly wearing a headscarf improperly.
The Iranian authorities have cracked down hard on the women-led protest movement, killing more than 520 people and illegally detaining over 19,000, including many women, rights groups say. After biased trials, the judiciary has handed down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.
With a score of 12 on a 100-point scale, Iran was among the 57 countries and territories ranked as “not free” in the Freedom House report.
The Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, and Finland were the freest in the world with scores of 100, while Tibet, Syria, and South Sudan were the worst, scoring only 1 point.
Freedom House noted that Iranians have “repeatedly voiced their objections over the years as it descended deeper into dictatorship,” with the authorities using lethal violence to put down successive waves of protests.
While Iran holds elections regularly, "they fall short of democratic standards due in part to the influence of the hard-line Guardian Council, an unelected body that disqualifies all candidates it deems insufficiently loyal to the clerical establishment," the group said.
"Ultimate power rests in the hands of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the unelected institutions under his control. These institutions, including the security forces and the judiciary, play a major role in the suppression of dissent and other restrictions on civil liberties," according to the report.