Freedom in the Caucasus: Armenia improves, Georgia deteriorates, Azerbaijan still troubling – Freedom House
Freedom House says in its latest report that the state of rights and freedom across the world has deteriorated steadily for 13 years since 2005.
In 2018, the state of rights and freedoms worsened in 68 countries and improved in 50.
Freedom House says one cause of the crisis is the state of democratic institutions in the United States.
Country ratings are compiled on a 100-point scale (0 being the lowest), and all countries are divided into three categories – free, partially free, and not free.
What is the general view from the South Caucasus?
Armenia – 51/100
Armenia fell into the category of partially free countries with a rating of 51 points.
The largest increase compared to the previous year took place in the Political Rights category, where Armenia climbed five points. In addition, it rated 4 on a scale from one to seven, with one point being the highest mark.
The authors gave the following reasons for the improvement in the country’s indicators:
• The resignation of the President, and then, for a short time, Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan made it possible to hold more free and fair elections, both parliamentary and municipal (mayor of Yerevan).
• Members of the Central Election Commission demonstrated more responsible behaviour during early parliamentary elections.
• Decreased interference by the authorities in the activities of political parties and public associations, including during the pre-election period.
• It has been demonstrated that the opposition can come to power through elections at both national and municipal levels.
• The level of tolerance in society is gradually increasing. For example, a woman was elected as mayor of a large city in Armenia for the first time in the country’s history.
Azerbaijan – 11/100
Azerbaijan received 11 points and fell into the category of non-free countries.
A report on the status of rights and freedom in the country is still being prepared, but the general data is disappointing:
• Citizens’ political rights are null: seven on a scale of one to seven, with one being the best score.
• Civil liberties are close to non-existent: six on the same scale.
Georgia – 63/100
Georgia’s ranking is still the best of all three countries in the South Caucasus – 63. The country is listed as partially free.
However, in the two main categories – Political Rights and Civil Liberties – Georgia dropped one place. In particular, in the category of Political Rights, Georgia received a rating of 3 on a scale from one to seven, with one being the best mark.
The authors of the report noted serious negative events and trends:
• The excessive influence of oligarchs on political life, mostly by the head of the ruling Georgian Dream party, billionaire and former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili.
• Illegal actions of the police and the courts which led to mass protests in Tbilisi and the arrest of their leaders.
• Numerous cases of voter bribery and intimidation, as well as the use of administrative resources during presidential elections.
• Lack of transparency in appealing the actions of election commissions in courts.
• Prohibiting the creation of electoral blocs, which deprives smaller parties of their chance for representation.
• The fight against corruption in the highest echelons of power is not conducted. Kinship and friendship play the main role in the appointment to public office.
• Media is under pressure from the state.
• Religious minorities complain of discrimination, while the Georgian Orthodox Church is in a privileged position.
Abkhazia, Nagorny Karabakh, South Ossetia
Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia are referred to as “territories” in the Freedom House report. No detailed status reports on the three are present. Their ratings are as follows:
• Abkhazia – partially free territory, 41/100;
• Nagorno-Karabakh – partially free territory, 31/100;
• South Ossetia is not a free territory, 10/100 .