Report: Israel only ‘free country’ in Mideast, Turkey no longer ‘free’

A leading think tank determined that Turkish society has ceased to be free, with Israel remaining the only functioning democracy in the Middle East.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Washington-based think tank Freedom House, a US-government funded NGO that assesses the degree of political freedoms and civil liberties in 195 countries, issued its annual report Tuesday. Freedom House evaluates countries on a range of parameters and gave Israel a score of 79 (out of 100), meaning that it is considered a free country.

Israel remains one of only 45% of surveyed nations judged to have a free society.

Israel dropped a single point over last year, due, according to the report, to “new legislation aimed at tightening restrictions on critical nongovernmental organizations and denying them access to international support.” This refers to the Knesset’s 2016 law forcing NGOs that receive most of their funding from foreign governments to openly declare who is giving them money.

Three Arab countries are among the “worst of the worst” repressive regimes: Syria, the only nation that earned a negative rating, and Saudi Arabia and Libya, each of which scored a paltry 9 out of 100. The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip was not much ahead, coming in with a score of 12. While also not free, the PA administration in Judea and Samaria received 28 points.

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Turkey was one country that was actually downgraded from “partly free” to “not free,” joining the 25% of nations in the world now found in that category. The report noted several factors for this slide including, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “intensified crackdown on his perceived opponents that began after a failed 2016 coup attempt. In addition to its dire consequences for detained Turkish citizens, shuttered media outlets, and seized businesses, the chaotic purge has become intertwined with an offensive against the Kurdish minority, which in turn has fueled Turkey’s diplomatic and military interventions in neighboring Syria and Iraq.”

The report also mentioned “a deeply flawed constitutional referendum that centralized power in the presidency, arbitrary prosecutions of rights activists… and continued purges of state employees, all of which have left citizens hesitant to express their views on sensitive topics.”

In general, the global index reported that 71 countries registering a decline in political rights and civil liberties and only 35 improved their score from the previous year.

Even the United States dropped from 89 to 86, due to “growing evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, violations of basic ethical standards by the new administration, and a reduction in government transparency,” the report said.