3 nationalities. 2 people. 1 goal. Our thoughts on the latest in international affairs.
In the wake of perhaps the most divisive SCOTUS ruling this year on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Americans once again–amongst ranks of pickets and like-minded citizens–exercised their right to assemble. And from this landmark case, the freedom of religion deeply enshrined in our nation’s beginnings is once again upheld by our rule of law. As freedom is celebrated today, it is seemingly stronger than ever.
Globally–as geopolitical events reach turning points simultaneously–freedoms of speech, the press, religion, and assembly are increasingly losing traction.
Last week, three journalists from Qatar-based Al-Jazeera were sentenced to at least seven years in prison for aiding terrorist groups and publishing false, seditious information. Human rights groups, governments, and news organizations alike decried the partial judicial process. With a lack of incriminating evidence, prosecutors resorted to insubstantial or irrelevant footage for much of the trial.
Martial law has been in effect for over a month. Responding to anti-government protests and burgeoning instability, the military effectively replaced the acting government, in what all but the military call a ‘coup’. Among the army’s first actions as the de facto government: taking over or closing TV stations, blocking hundreds of websites, and prohibiting citizens from using social media to incite unrest.
This year’s annual march, held on July 1st each year to commemorate the transfer of the island from Great Britain in 1997, saw half a million residents rally for democracy and the “one country, two systems” policy promised in the transfer. This year’s march was also met with draconian law enforcement. More than 500 protesters were arrested during a peaceful sit-in in the business district. And to conclude with consistency, Chinese media sensors purportedly had their busiest day of the year.
Though prevalent in international media, these mainstream cases are a cursory sample of governments limiting freedoms. Protest suppression, press censorship, and religious persecution occur daily, and often in countries and regions associated with stability and prosperity. The above graphic from Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization, paints a poignant picture of the current state of freedom of the press.
(Here is a similar study from Reporters Without Borders, with strikingly parallel results.)
What does this mean for the US and the noble mission of spreading democracy? It depends.
An early sign of a country slipping into authoritarianism is intensified suppression of the press, speech, and religion. With today’s frequent political transitions, monitoring these basic freedoms is critical. If the US remains committed to its vision of a free, democratic world, resolving these issues will be the last piece of the puzzle. But, is this puzzle even worth completing?
Recent experience has shown democratic transitions to be an onerous task fraught with conflict. Would places such as Syria have been, if not peaceful, at least stable if the authoritarian regime were to still be in power? And with Afghanistan struggling to muster some semblance of democratic elections and a new conflict looming east of the Euphrates, the latest projects in our blundering mission of democratizing the world have ostensibly failed as well.
Perhaps stability should trump freedom, knowing the death toll and ramifications of these transitions.
Perhaps the American notions of freedom and democracy are inextricably linked to our culture and values, and don’t count for much abroad.
Perhaps, these freedoms we salute today are but a cornerstone of American democracy.