Civil Rights and Political Liberties

   

To what extent does the state concede and protect political liberties?

EUOECD
 
All state institutions concede and effectively protect political liberties.
10
Estonia
Political liberties are an important part of Estonia’s constitution and they are widely respected in society. Eleven political parties collectively covering the entire spectrum of mainstream political ideologies are registered and active. The Estonian Trade Union Confederation (EAKL), which is comprised of 20 branch unions, represents employees’ interests in collective-bargaining agreements and protects employees’ rights in employment relations. It also consults employers on developing a sustainable labor market and participates in policymaking. Civil-society groups organize open forums to discuss important social and political issues. One such forum, the Arvamusfestival (Opinion Festival) is held annually since August 2013 and expands each year. In 2017, over 9,000 people attended the three-day event.
There is no state church in Estonia and religious freedom is guaranteed through the presence of 10 religious associations.
Finland
Political liberties are effectively protected in Finland. The country has for decades received the highest scores concerning political liberties in Freedom House surveys. Finnish law provides for freedom of speech, and this freedom is upheld in practice. Finns also enjoy freedom of religion, freedom of association and assembly, and the right to organize, bargain collectively and strike. A large majority of workers belong to trade unions, although the share of membership in trade unions has been decreasing. Women enjoy rights and liberties in Finland equal to those of men. The criminal code covers ethnic agitation and human trafficking. The constitution guarantees members of the indigenous Saami population, who comprise less than 1% of the population, cultural autonomy and the right to pursue their traditional livelihoods.
New Zealand
The Bill of Rights Act 1990 guarantees unlimited political rights to think, speak, assemble, organize and petition without interference. Those who believe that their rights have been infringed upon can file a suit before the High Court. In addition, the New Zealand Council of Civil Liberties is an active, non-governmental organization that promotes these liberties. Freedom House assesses the situation of political rights in New Zealand as excellent. Despite being widely accepted as an important feature of New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements, the provisions of the Bill of Rights are not supreme law; that is, they have never been entrenched. During 2012 and 2013, a constitutional advisory panel appointed by the government sought the public’s view on whether the Bill of Rights should be expanded to include additional rights and be entrenched. It ultimately recommended that consultation on these issues should be continued.
Citations:
Constitutional Advisory Panel, 2013. New Zealand’s Constitution. A Report on a Conversation, http://www.ourconstitution.org.nz/store/doc/FR_Full_Report.pdf (accessed November 11, 2014).
Sweden
Political liberties and human rights are written into the constitution. Sweden is a highly institutionalized advanced democracy. As such, it upholds all political liberties.
9
Austria
As human rights, civil and political liberties are guaranteed effectively by the Austrian constitution. The Austrian standard of recognition accorded to such liberties and rights is very high. For religious liberties, Austria has developed a special system of official recognition. Officially recognized religious denominations, which include all major Christian denominations, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, enjoy specific privileges such as the right to provide religious instruction in public schools.

The freedom of speech is sometimes seen as constrained by Austrian courts’ interpretation of libel. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has overturned decisions by Austrian courts in numerous cases, as the Strasbourg court considers the Austrian interpretation as too narrow. The judicial system has in consequence adapted to the rulings of the ECHR.

The only legalized limitation to political freedom concerns any activity linked to National Socialism. As a consequence of Austria’s past, the Austrian system does not allow political activities based on the doctrine of National Socialism, including Holocaust denial. While the principle itself is widely supported, its interpretation in practice sometimes leads to controversy.

The existence of an apparently very small in number but internationally well-connected network of radical Islamists represents a new challenge to political liberties in Austria. Some Austrian citizens have been recruited to fight for the “Islamic State” militia, for example. This has resulted in a debate about the limits of political liberties, but has not yet led to any significant legal action being taken.
Czech Rep.
Political liberties are respected by state institutions, and their observance is supervised by the courts. In the review period, several demonstrations against the introduction of electronic cash registers and in favor of the resignation of then-Minister of Finance Andrej Babiš and President Zeman took place. Civil society is vibrant. As domestic philanthropy continues to improve, the dependence on foreign donors has decreased.
Denmark
The Danish constitution protects the political rights and liberties, including freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of assembly. Elections are free. The government is accountable to the elected parliament.

Freedom House usually gives Denmark top scores for civil liberties and political rights. Problems in Denmark mostly concern ethnic tensions, especially involving the country’s Muslim population, and alleged abuse by the police.

Recent human rights reports from Amnesty International include critiques concerning the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers. Some asylum-seekers in Denmark were returned to their home countries, contrary to the recommendations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This practice stopped after a decision against Denmark by the European Court of Human Rights in 2011. The 2013 report criticized some individual cases of denied asylum. In a report reviewing human rights between 2011 to 2015, Amnesty International expressed concern about the “management of asylum cases which fails to insure the best interests of the child, and the detention of asylum-seekers and vulnerable persons while awaiting deportation.”

The 2015 – 2016 report from Amnesty International mentioned a recent judgment by the Eastern High Court that the police had unlawfully removed and detained protesters during an official state visit by Chinese officials in 2012.
Citations:
Amnesty International Annual Report: Denmark 2016/2017, https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/europe-and-central-asia/denmark/report-denmark/

Amnesty International, Denmark: Human Rights in Review: 2011-2015. https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur18/2332/2015/en/ (accessed 8 October 2015).
France
Political liberties are well-protected in France. This situation can be explained by several factors. The fact that these liberties are considered as the heritage of the French Revolution sets them in a quasi-sacred position. Protections were granted and solidified by the highest administrative court during the Third and Fourth Republics. Recently, the increasing and active role of the Constitutional Council in striking down laws which could jeopardize said liberties has been crucial. The expansion of the court’s powers stemmed from its 1971 decision to protect the right of association from governmental intervention.

A controversial and still not fully resolved issue is related to the interpretation of the separation of religious and public life (laicité). The ban on religious signs and symbols in all places of public administration and institutions is, in theory, applicable to all religious affiliations but concerns mainly the Islamic community. There is a growing uneasiness among the population about the manifestation of “differences,” issues which right-wing and extreme-right parties are particularly vocal about. One observes a growing illiberal attitude in public opinion and a rejection of differences based, in particular, on religious beliefs (e.g., Halāl food, public religious demonstrations and wearing burkinis on public beaches).
Germany
Due to Germany’s historical experience with National Socialism, political liberties are highly protected by the country’s constitution and the Constitutional Court. Freedom of expression is protected by the constitution (Art. 5), although there are exceptions for hate speech and Nazi propaganda, such as Holocaust denial. With the exception of cases where individuals are deemed to be actively seeking to overturn the democratic order, the right to assemble peacefully is guaranteed (Basic Law, Art. 8) and is not infringed upon. All exceptions are applied very restrictively. For example, even extreme parties such as the far-right Nationaldemokratische Partei (NDP) currently have full freedom to operate. The Bundesrat appealed to the Federal Constitutional Court seeking to prohibit the NDP but the court did not ban the NPD in its judgment from 17 January 2017.

The freedoms to associate and organize (Basic Law, Art. 9), as well as academic freedom, are generally respected. Non-governmental organizations operate freely. Every person has the right to address requests and complaints to the competent authorities and to the legislature (Basic Law, Art. 17). Freedom of belief is protected by the constitution (Basic Law, Art. 4).
Greece
Political liberties are well protected by the constitution, including the right to vote, to think and speak freely, to assemble and demonstrate, to organize in collectives such as unions and associations and to submit petitions requiring a timely response by the competent authorities. However, in the period under review, the realization that the Syriza-ANEL government followed in the steps of previous governments on economic and social policy led to protests, such as protests by old-age pensioners, which at various times were suppressed by police forces. In other areas – the right to worship, for example – liberties are affected by the constitutionally imposed impediments on proselytism by religious dogmas other than Greek Orthodox Christianity. For years successive governments were reluctant to allow the establishment of places of worship. For example, the Muslim community of Athens still does not have an officially recognized place of worship (i.e., a state recognized mosque). In autumn 2015, the government proclaimed three make-shift Islamic places of worship legal, although hundreds of other places continued to function without a legal permit. In autumn 2016, the Greek government made available a public space in Athens for the construction of a mosque and in July 2017 the parliament, with 206 votes in favor and 24 against, approved a bill that set aside €946,000 of public funds for the building. This decision will mean that Athens is no longer the only EU capital without an official center of worship for Muslims. However, there is still no functioning Muslim cemetery in the capital’s wider region. Nevertheless, there is progress. In August 2016, the Church of Greece decided to allocate a burial site for Muslims in a public cemetery in Athens (20 hectares of land in Schisto).
Iceland
The 1944 constitution contains provisions protecting the freedom of the press as well as freedoms of organization and assembly. The 2011/2012 constitutional bill, which remains to be ratified by the parliament, aims to significantly broaden individual rights and liberties further in line with international developments in the area of human rights. The new constitution supported by 67% of the voters in the national referendum called by parliament in 2012, remains on the table. In the October 2017 parliamentary election campaign, five parties declared support for ratification of the new constitution, namely the Social Democrats, the Pirate Party, the Left-Green Movement, Regeneration and Bright Future. The only sworn opponent of constitutional change is the Independence Party, which continues to behave as if the constitutional referendum of 2012 did not take place.
Ireland
Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the right to form unions and associations without religious, political or class discrimination are enshrined in the Irish constitution. These rights have been protected and upheld by the Irish courts over the years, subject only to restrictions regarding sedition, blasphemy and breaches of the peace. In October 2014, the government accepted the constitutional convention’s recommendation that a referendum be held on removing the offense of blasphemy from the constitution. However, it has made clear that this referendum will not be held in the life of the present government.

Sinn Féin, the political wing of the formerly illegal Irish Republican Army, has become increasingly involved in mainstream Irish politics. Its share of the national vote grew from 1.6% in 1992 to 13% in 2016, while the number of seats it occupies in parliament grew from zero to 23. No political group is presently excluded from access to the airwaves or the print media.
Italy
The protection of the complete array of political liberties is enshrined in the constitution and guaranteed by an independent judiciary. During the period of observation, no significant cases of infringement were attested. The right to worship is fully guaranteed to all religious groups and an increasing number of minority groups have been able to use the opportunities offered by agreements with the state to facilitate its implementation. However, some practical problems connected with the freedom of worship, like enjoying the special fiscal treatments guaranteed to religious groups or building places of worship, have not fully disappeared. These problems have been more relevant for Islamic groups, to some extent because of political fears and hostility, but also because of their more uncertain legal status.
Japan
The freedoms of speech, the press, assembly and association are guaranteed under Article 21 of the constitution. Reported abuses have been quite rare, though it has often been claimed that the police and prosecutors are more lenient toward vocal right-wing groups than toward left-wing activists.

That are concerns that the new 2017 anti-conspiracy laws, passed in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, could undermine political liberties. Under these rules, “words,” rather than simply “deeds,” can be grounds for prosecution.

There is also concern that right-wing activism, including so-called hate speech, is on the rise, and that this might actually be supported by ruling politicians. Some senior LDP politicians have been linked to ultra-right-wing groups.

Civil society movements have had varying effect. A group called the Student Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs) organized several high-profile mass rallies against the government’s assertive foreign-security policy before disbanding temporarily after the 2016 Upper House elections. While the success of such movements has as yet been limited, they offer testimony to the high de facto level of political liberties.
Citations:
Justin McCurry, Japan’s ruling party under fire over links to far-right extremists, The Guardian, 13 October 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/13/japan-ruling-party-far-right-extremists-liberal-democratic

Tomohiro Osaki, SEALDs leaves door open for future activities, 16 August 2016, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/08/16/national/politics-diplomacy/sealds-leaves-door-open-future-activities/

Michael Hoffman, Is Japan slipping into prewar politics?, The Japan Times, 3 June 2017, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/06/03/national/media-national/japan-slipping-prewar-politics/
Latvia
Political liberties are effectively protected and upheld. The right to speak, think, assemble, organize, worship, and petition without government interference or restraint is recognized and protected. However, new challenges to the freedoms of speech, assembly and organization are emerging.

The freedom of assembly is regularly tested by organizations applying to the Riga city council for permits. In most instances, permits are granted without fail. Sensitive political issues, however, have led the city council to deny permits. There is a right of appeal to the court as well as a rapid consideration schedule to ensure timeliness of decisions. In all cases between 2011 and 2013, Riga city council decisions limiting the freedom of assembly have been overturned by the court.
Lithuania
Lithuanian institutions generally respect the freedoms of assembly and association. In 2016, Lithuania obtained the best possible score from Freedom House on the issue of political rights and civil freedoms (1 out of 7). Lithuanian political parties operate freely, with the Communist Party being the only banned grouping. Non-governmental organizations may register without serious obstacles, and human-rights groups operate without restrictions. In 2010, an appeals court ruled that Lithuania’s first gay-pride parade could go ahead on the basis of the right to peaceful assembly. This parade (a controversial issue in this majority Roman-Catholic country) was initially banned by a lower court due to concerns over potential violence. Another gay-pride parade was allowed to be held in the center of Vilnius in 2013. The freedom of religion is also largely upheld in practice, but certain government benefits are granted only to traditional religious communities. Workers may form and join trade unions, strike, and engage in collective bargaining, but slightly less than 10% of the country’s workforce is unionized. The supreme court has ruled that the right to strike can be used only after other measures provided for in the Labor Code have been exhausted.
Citations:
The 2017 freedom rating of Lithuania by the Freedom House is available at https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2017/lithuania
Luxembourg
No infringements of citizen’s rights to speak, assemble, organize, worship or petition occurred during the period under review. Some court cases have dealt with xenophobic and racist speech (particularly online).

Anticlerical forces have demanded the separation of church and state, and criticized state subsidies for churches, particularly the Catholic Church, which is the dominant faith in Luxembourg. Protestant and Jewish organizations also benefit from public funding. In response to this, the 2009 government program promised the creation of so-called houses of secularism, following the Belgian model. Following a period of receiving very low subsidies, the Islamic Religious Community, Anglican Community and the Orthodox Church have received significant public funding since 2016. Initially, the government coalition intended to include a question in the June 2015 referendum, relating to the funding of the churches and the introduction of a church tax system in Luxembourg. In January 2015, however, the government agreed to the demands of the various religious communities and removed the issue from the referendum.
Citations:
“Religion is private, says Luxembourg PM.” Luxemburger Wort, 12 Sept. 2014, www.wort.lu/en/politics/church-and-state-religion-is-private-says-luxembourg-pm-54128b3eb9b3988708063816. Accessed 21 Feb. 2017.

“«Die Kirche muss sich in Zukunft selbst finanzieren».” L’essentiel, 11 Sept. 2014, www.lessentiel.lu/de/news/story/19528954. Accessed 21 Feb. 2017.
Norway
Political liberties are protected in the constitution and in law, although the constitution does not strongly articulate explicit protections for minority rights. The right to free expression was strengthened through a constitutional amendment in 2004. Norway has ratified all international conventions on human and civil rights. The European Convention on Human Rights is incorporated into national law. The right to free worship is ensured. The Lutheran church stills enjoys a privileged status, but its actual political influence is limited. Its status as a state church was reformed in 2012, increasing its autonomy of decision-making and introducing various forms of “democratization” in church affairs. Political liberties are respected by state institutions.
Portugal
Under the regime that ruled Portugal until 1974, there were virtually no political liberties. The basic goal of the political transition was to achieve and guarantee political liberties. Portugal has been successful in this regard, and widely agreed-upon political liberties are now in place and respected. The basic legislation in the constitution, and subsequent regular legislation, guarantees these political liberties. They function reasonably well.
Slovenia
In Slovenia, political liberties are constitutionally protected and guaranteed and are respected by government institutions. The rights to assembly and association, for instance, are guaranteed in Article 42 of the Slovenian constitution and can only be restricted in special cases. The fact that Slovenia has more civil society organizations per capita than most other countries testifies to the protection of the freedom of association. Infringements on political liberties are rare.
Switzerland
Switzerland is in many ways a role model for the exercise and protection of political liberties. However, the November 2009 adoption of a ban on constructing new minarets must be considered a serious political signal against the right to freely worship, even if, in practice, the law means little for the free exercise of religion. Before the decision, there were only four minarets in Switzerland.
Netherlands
All the usual political liberties (of assembly, association, movement, religion, speech, press, thought, unreasonable searches/seizures and suffrage) are guaranteed by the constitution. The Netherlands is a signatory to all pertinent major international treaties (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, European Convention on Human Rights). All relevant ranking institutions, such as The Economist’s Intelligence Unit Democracy Index and the Freedom House ranking of political liberties, consistently list the Netherlands as one of the leading countries in the world.

However, the protection of privacy rights is in practice increasingly subject to political attention and public debate. The Expert Body on the Protection of Privacy Data (College Bescherming Persoonsgegevens) has identified a growing number of deliberate or unintended infringements of the constitutional right to privacy. Since January 2016, its powers have been broadened and it can now impose fines. There is also an obligation for large data-processing private and public companies to immediately report any data leaks. Nevertheless, there is a widespread perception that the big data revolution poses a considerable threat to privacy rights and the government’s response has been too weak.
Citations:
Freedom House, Freedom in the world 2016, Netherlands (freedom house.org, consulted November 2016)

Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens, Agenda 2016 (autoriteitpersoonsgegevens.nl, consulted 9 November 2016)
USA
The United States generally has a strong record of protecting political liberties. The protections cover all of the recognized political freedoms of speech, association, voting, and pursuit of public office, and extend even to extreme groups such as neo-Nazis. Religious freedoms are protected even for religious fringe groups. In contrast with most developed democracies, the United States’ constitutional free-speech doctrine does not permit laws banning hate speech.

In one significant limitation to political rights, convicted felons are barred from voting in nearly all states, although usually not permanently. Additionally, while the government allows protest demonstrations for all kinds of causes, even when they may become disruptive or disorderly, local police have sometimes confined demonstrators to locations far removed from the target events (e.g., during G-8, G-20 and WTO meetings).

From 2015 to 2017, there was increasing media and political attention on the practice on many university campuses of imposing restrictions on speech deemed to offend one or more groups – primarily African Americans, LGBTQ or women. Some universities have barred conservative speakers from making appearances on campus, mostly citing security concerns that arise from left-wing activists’ efforts to disrupt the events. According to the non-profit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) , a majority of colleges and universities have speech codes with provisions that have been ruled unconstitutional by federal courts.

Recently, there have been reactions against such university censorship. Many mainstream liberal media outlets have been highly critical of this kind of censorship, but some have given both sides the opportunity to state their positions . The Trump administration’s Department of Education (DOE) has withdrawn a highly controversial, supposedly advisory letter that ordered universities to weaken free speech and due process rights on campus; the Obama administration had issued it to strengthen anti-discrimination and sexual harassment enforcement, backed by the threat of losing federal funds. The House Judiciary Committee, controlled by Republicans, had challenged the Obama administration’s interpretations of the law and warned campuses to ensure that their speech codes do not violate constitutional rights. FIRE reports that the number of universities with unconstitutional speech codes has declined for several years.
 
All state institutions for the most part concede and protect political liberties. There are only few infringements.
8
Australia
Political liberty is strongly protected by the courts, but is not unfettered. As in other Western countries, anti-terrorist legislation has raised a major challenge to political liberties. The Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 makes any act of sedition illegal, such as urging the overthrow of the government by violence or force, and outlaws any organization that advocates the use of violence or force for that end. One of the main criticisms of the legislation is that it lacks sufficient judicial oversight. Some also regard the design and administration of defamation laws as hampering political liberties, as they in practice act to protect governments, companies and powerful people from scrutiny.

Like many other OECD countries, Australia has seen a rise in anti-Islamic political parties, including Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party, which secured four out of 76 senate seats in the July 2016 federal election.
Belgium
Belgium is a mature democracy in which political rights are generally well-protected. Internal issues with respect to political liberties began to appear as a result of tensions between the Dutch-speaking (Flanders and a minority in Brussels) and French-speaking (Wallonia, a majority in Brussels and in some municipalities around Brussels) communities. To reinforce the usage of Dutch in Flanders, the Flemish regional government passed a law that in effect largely bans the usage of French for political communication in Flemish territory, even in municipalities where a large majority of the population is French-speaking.

A more recent set of challenges has emerged in the wake of the 2016 terrorist attacks on Brussels, Paris and Nice. The government has adopted countermeasures that allow the police to crack down on terrorist networks, which have used Belgium as a staging ground for attacks across Europe and for channeling fundamentalists to Syria.

However, Human Rights Watch has determined that the recent legislative reforms may be infringing on individual liberties. Recent legal changes allow the government to “place prisoners detained for terrorism in prolonged isolation, and allow the government to suspend passports and review terrorism suspects’ phone and email logs without judicial approval. Other laws can revoke Belgian citizenship and criminalize comments that stop short of direct incitement to terrorism. [The report] also details abusive police responses during counterterrorism raids and detentions.”
Citations:
https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/belgium1116_web.pdf

https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/11/03/belgium-response-attacks-raises-rights-concerns
Bulgaria
Political liberties are guaranteed in Bulgaria by the constitution and relevant laws. Bulgarians enjoy the freedom to express themselves, to assemble and organize themselves (including explicitly politically), to hold religious beliefs and to petition the government. Bulgarians have clearly established rights to speak freely, assemble and protest. The freedom of expression has suffered from the declining independence of the traditional media, but has been strengthened by the opportunities provided by internet.
Canada
There were very few major concerns expressed about infringements of Canadians’ political liberties over the 2011 to 2017 period, with two exceptions. Bill C-309, passed in 2013 makes it a crime punishable by a 10-year prison term to incite a riot while wearing a mask or any face covering, including face paint. Someone who merely participates in a riot or in an “unlawful” assembly with their face covered can be deemed under the new law to have committed an indictable criminal offense and be jailed for up to five years. Another potential challenge to Canadian political liberties was posed by the anti-terrorism legislation Bill C-51, passed in 2015, which contains provisions restricting protest rights and freedom of speech, this has attracted criticism from a number of human rights and civil liberty organizations. In a 2015 report, the U.N. Human Rights Committee voiced concerns about the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers during mass arrests in the context of protests on both the national and provincial levels.

Other developments have been more positive. Seeking to improve the stability and efficacy of First Nations governments, the federal government passed the First Nations Elections Act in 2014. This act provides a new opt-in election system for individual First Nations, which differs from the regime created under the Indian Act by providing for longer terms of office for chiefs and councilors, among other provisions, while creating the opportunity to withdraw from the Indian Act regime.
Citations:
Parliament of Canada, Bill C-9 “First Nations Elections Act,” posted at http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=6540209

United Nations Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on Canada’s sixth report in relation to Canada’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, August 2015.
Slovakia
In Slovakia, political rights are largely respected. Citizens can freely join independent political and civic groups. The Ministry of Interior has registered over 35.000 such associations and over 60 political parties, though only 23 of which took part in the 2016 parliamentary elections. In the period under review, several mass protests against corruption took place, calling for the dismissal of Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák, Police Corps President Tibor Gašpar and Special Prosecutor Dušan Kováčik.
Spain
Spain is classified as an advanced democracy by various indices, including the Freedom House’s Freedom in the World index and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. The country’s institutions are generally effective at protecting political liberties, though there are occasionally incidents of infringements on political liberties. The 1978 Spanish constitution outlines the political liberties that must be respected by state institutions. Fundamental rights and public freedoms (included in Section 1, Chapter 2, Part I of the constitution) are subject to special protections. The political liberties subject to special protection against government (or even private) interference or violation include: the freedoms of ideology, religion and worship; the right to freely express and spread thoughts, ideas and opinions without any form of prior censorship; the right to peaceful unarmed assembly, with no need to notify local authorities in advance unless demonstrations are being held in public places; the right of association; the right to freely join a trade union; and the right to individual and collective petition.
Citations:
Freedom House: Freedom in the World, Spain 2017
https://freedomhouse.org/repor t/freedom-world/2017/spain

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index
https://www.eiu.com/topic/dem ocracy-index
UK
Without a written constitution and the protection it affords, citizens of the United Kingdom have no fundamental rights in the sense of enjoying special protection against the powers of the executive and parliament. Citizens’ rights in the United Kingdom can thus be said to be residual and negative in nature. Citizens can do anything not expressly prohibited by law, but there are no positive rights to assert against the government unless the government concedes them. In practice, UK citizens enjoy considerable freedoms, although the police have recently acquired powers to constrain protests. Even so, demonstrations do take place.

Since disputes about political liberties always arise over contested issues, UK citizens have little recourse within the political system, especially when compared to continental European political systems. The Human Rights Act of 1998 (HRA) represented an attempt to create a “higher law” to which all other laws must conform. It offers individual and minority rights, and empowers judges to hold the executive to account and review acts of parliament. But its effectiveness is constrained by the fact that the government can temporarily annul the HRA, if it considers this necessary for the benefit of the country, and it remains contested.

The relative informality of civil rights in the United Kingdom is often justified by the strong tradition of a fair and open public discourse, which forms the very heart of the United Kingdom’s political identity. Some elements of the Brexit campaign, not least the murder of Jo Cox, may have cast doubt on this, although the strong public and political reaction to this tragedy highlighted a national determination to defend civil liberties.
7
Chile
In general, political rights are protected by the constitution and legislation, and are enforced by government policy and practice. Nevertheless, police interventions have sometimes crossed the line from guaranteeing law and order into repression – especially during the more intense period of the student movement and protests by Chile’s indigenous people. Furthermore, the biased media landscape limits equal access to information and the opportunity to communicate different political opinions and versions of conflict situations.
Croatia
In Croatia, political liberties are largely respected. There are laws that guarantee the freedom of assembly and the freedom of association. However, the Law on Public Assembly is more restrictive than in France or the United States, containing an obligation to outline the purpose of an assembly, and limiting spaces available for public assemblies. While the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, the criminalization of defamation, insult and shaming remains at odds with international standards
Cyprus
Political liberties and the protection of fundamental human rights are enshrined in the constitution and protected by law. NGOs and other associations flourish in Cyprus. New media multiplied available channels for petitions, protests and rallies. Cases of pressure on minorities to attend religious ceremonies at schools have been reported. While religious groups are allowed to worship without interference from the authorities, isolated complaints were reported on the state of places of worship and other issues.

Strong professional associations and trade unions continue to enjoy easier access to public authorities than groups such as immigrants. The latter often require assistance from NGOs to make their requests public.

A supreme court decision in December 2016 considered the seizure of personal computers in a libel case as disproportionate. This practice during investigations raises serious concerns about the infringement of fundamental rights. The handling of seized computers and other forms of personal data by officials is often carried out in an insecure manner.

Libel was decriminalized in 2003 and Cyprian courts apply European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) free expression and shield standards. However, cases and threats to sue for libel/defamation persisted, both by politicians and businesses. This threatens the ability to scrutinize public figures, authorities and businesses.

The clientelistic system exerts “ambient” pressures on citizens’ liberties, indirectly undermining individual fundamental rights.
Citations:
1. Department of State Report on Religious Freedoms, Cyprus (released 2017) https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm#wrapper
2. Our View: Protection of mediocrity by the unions keeps healthcare standards low, Cyprus Mail, 20.10.2016, http://cyprus-mail.com/2016/10/20/view-protection-mediocrity-unions-keeps-healthcare-standards-low/
Malta
The constitution of Malta and its chapter on fundamental human rights provide for a broad range of political and civil liberties. The incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into the Maltese constitution as well as membership in the European Union has also enhanced political liberties in Malta. Maltese citizens have the right to take a case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and several individuals have done so with success. However, a traditionally clientelistic and partisan approach to politics sometimes hinders the political liberties of individuals, forcing them to refrain from associating with political parties, non-government organizations and/or trade unions for fear of being discriminated against by the government in office or after a change of government. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index 2017-2018, Malta’s ranking fell in terms of public trust in politicians and favoritism in decisions by government. However, there was an improvement in the score for transparency of government policymaking. The 2017 Eurobarometer, in contrast, reported an increased trust in government in 2016 (55%) over 2012 (34%). Excessive delays in the deciding of court cases and the costs of such delays often deter people from seeking legal solutions, although the picture has improved sharply on this issue. In 2013, a commission charged with reforming the judicial system was established and although it has presented a number of reports, it remains subject to criticisms regarding the delayed implementation of its recommendations. The right to a lawyer during police interrogation has now been fully implemented. Malta, however, has one of the lowest allocations of legal aid in the EU. In addition, legal aid lawyers are very poorly paid. Legal aid needs to be provided for pre-litigation advice, mediation and out-of-court settlements. The current threshold to be eligible for legal aid is also very low.
Citations:
Migrant Integration Policy Index. http://www.mipex.eu/malta
Freedom in the World 2015 Malta
COM (2014) 419 Final COUNCIL RECOMMENDATION on Malta’s 2014 National Reform Program
Judiciary criticizes proposals for reform of commission for the administration of justice Times of Malta 1/10/13
Justice Reform Commission makes 450 proposals Times of Malta 2/12/13
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160411/local/european-commission-justice-scoreboard-results-welcomed.608529
Times of Malta 28/09/16 Lawyers to be present during interrogation
Legal and Reformers Network Malta: parties agree on legal aid for suspects facing police interrogation
Access to Legal Assistance in Malta, Aditus 2017
Times of Malta 27/10/17 Malta’s Tribal Politics
Times of Malta 11/11/17 Permanent secretary to be compensated because of political discrimination
Global competitiveness report 2017-2018 World Economic Forum
Malta Independent 31/07/16 55% of Maltese trust government in 2016 compared to 34% in 2012
Romania
In 2017, Romanian citizens made heavy use of their political liberties, as hundreds of thousands of people took the streets to protest against the government’s plans for amending the Criminal Code and for reforming the judiciary. However, the protesters and some of the NGOs involved faced a smear campaign by the governing coalition. In some cases, the confrontation between the protesters and the police raised questions about crowd control and the conduct of the Romanian Gendarmerie. The new NGO legislation introduced by two members of parliament from the governing coalition in June 2017 and passed by the Senate in November 2017 aims at weakening Romanian civil society.
6
Poland
Under the PiS government, violations of political liberties have increased. First, the Law on Public Assembly has been made more restrictive by privileging state-organized and regular public events over one-off demonstrations organized by social actors. According to the new rules passed by the Sejm in December 2016, assemblies of citizens cannot be held at the same time and place as gatherings organized by the public authorities or churches. This means that counter-demonstrations to periodic assemblies, typically devoted to patriotic, religious and historic events, are forbidden, which prioritizes governmental or government-supported assemblies. A second reason for concern is that the treatment of demonstrators by the police has worsened, as evidenced by an increasing number of interrogations and arrests, and growing police violence. Finally, political liberties are likely to suffer from changes in the financing of NGOs, signed by President Duda in October 2017. These changes will make access to public funding more difficult for independent NGOs.
Citations:
Amnesty International (2017): Poland: On the Streets to defend Human Rights. Harassment, Surveillance and Prosecution of Protesters. London (https://www.amnesty.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Final-prosecution-of-protesters-10.10-1.pdf).

Sadurski, W. (2018): How Democracy Dies (in Poland): A Case Study of Anti-Constitutional Populist Backsliding. Sydney Law School, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 18/01, Sydney (https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3103491.##).
 
State institutions concede political liberties but infringements occur regularly in practice.
5
Israel
Israel’s lack of a constitution means that the guarantee of political rights is given the same status as basic laws. Thus, they are not constitutional as such. For these and other reasons, the responsibility to protect political liberties still lies with Israeli parliament. However, parliamentary activity has not been conducive to this task. Several recent pieces of proposed legislation appear to undermine aspects of democracy and due process.

A law passed in March 2011 requires the state to fine or withdraw funds from local authorities and other state-funded groups that hold events marking Al-Nakba (the 1948 displacement of the Palestinian population) on Israeli independence day, support armed resistance or “racism” against Israel, or desecrate the state flag or national symbols. The law was intended to target Arab bodies financed through the state budget that commemorate the Al-Nakba events. However, during the period under review, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev called several times for the withdrawal of funding from cultural institutions for violating the law. On one occasion, she argued that the Jewish-Arab Jaffa theater “has turned from a platform for culture into a platform for terror.” Regev also proposed the so-called Culture Loyalty Bill, which would have allowed politicians to deny funding to cultural institutions that “contravene the principles of the state.” The bill was not approved, but was perceived by the Israel Union of Preforming Artists as an attempt to undermine the freedom of expression and artistic freedom.

Another controversial measure is the so-called Boycott Law, passed in July 2011, which exposes Israeli individuals and groups to civil lawsuits if they advocate an economic, cultural or academic boycott on Israel or the West Bank settlements. An amendment to the law is currently being discussed, which would toughen its provisions by allowing “a body or person working to encourage the boycott of Israel eligible to be sued for ILS 100,000 ($28,500) without proof of damages – or ILS 500,000 ($142,500) with proof of damages.”

The Transparency Requirements for Parties Supported by Foreign State Entities Bill, requires NGOs receiving more than half their income from foreign governments to report this fact annually to the Justice Ministry’s registrar of nonprofit associations. This bill was criticized as applying almost solely to human-rights and left-leaning organizations. According to Justice Ministry statistics, only 27 organizations in Israel that get more than half their funding from foreign governments. Of these, 25 are human-rights-focused organizations identified with the left.

The list of other problematic legislation includes the recently passed Entry to Israel law (prohibiting anyone who supports a boycott against the state of Israel from entering the country), several bills relating to contempt of the flag (one recently passed amendment to the law imposes significantly stricter penalties on those who harm the flag of Israel), a state education bill amendment (awaiting approval as of the time of writing) targeting organizations that “oppose educational values” and the armed forces, and more. However, many problematic proposals have not won parliamentary passage, or were eventually softened in part due to public opposition.
Citations:
Ben Shitrit, Lihi, “Israel’s Shrinking Democracy.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 10.03.2016, http://carnegieendowment.org/sada/63006

Cohen, Hanan. “The Nakba Law,” IDI, 24.05.2014: https://www.idi.org.il/articles/4640

Dahan, Tal, “Situation report: The state of human rights in Israel and the OPT 2016,” The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, http://www.acri.org.il/campaigns/report2016en/

“Freedom in the world 2017,” Freedom House website: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2017

“Escalation in Israeli Minister’s Culture War,” Haaretz, 8.9.2017: https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/editorial/1.811237

“Israel minister pursues tougher anti-BDS law,” Memo Middle Rast Monitor, 2.11.2017: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171102-israel-minister-pursues-tougher-anti-bds-law/

Knesset Press Release “Knesset passes NGO transparency law,” 12.07.2016, http://main.knesset.gov.il/News/PressReleases/pages/press120716.aspx (Hebrew)

Lis, Jonathan, Yair Ashkenazi, Jack Khoury and Sharon Pulwer, “Israel’s Nationalistic ‘Loyalty in Culture’ Bill Passes Legal Test,” Haaretz, 25.2.2016: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.705312

“Project Democracy: The Arab minority,” The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (October 2010). http://democracy-project.org.il/he/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/democracy-minorities.pdf

Steinber, Jessica, Miri Regev’s cultural war heats, The Times of Israel, 29.1.2016: https://www.timesofisrael.com/miri-regevs-cultural-war-heats-up/

Yishai, Yael, “Civil Society in Israel,” Carmel, Jerusalem, 2003.

Freedom House, “Freedom in the World 2018,” https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2018/israel
South Korea
Political liberties are protected by the constitution, but infringements do take place. The freedoms of opinion and of the press are constitutionally guaranteed, and the freedoms of association and assembly are respected in principle; however, the past 10 years of conservative government produced many problems including infringements of the freedoms of speech, assembly and collective action. After President Park’s impeachment, substantial new information emerged indicating the full extent of the infringements of political liberties that had taken place under her administration, including a blacklist of more than 9,000 artists who had been punished for voicing opposition to the government. However, improvements were evident even as early as the onset of the public protests calling for Park’s impeachment, as peaceful protests were allowed without much restriction, and unlike previous such incidents, the police refrained from using force. The situation is expected to improve further under President Moon. Yet even if there are few new cases of infringements, many unresolved issues remain. For example, in May 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that labor-union leader Han Sang-gyun should remain in prison for organizing largely peaceful protests against the government in 2014 and 2015. Former UPP lawmaker Lee Seok-ki also remains in prison. The Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union’s (KTU) is still waiting for legalization after its legal status was revoked following accusations that it had violated the clause of the teachers’ union law, which bars dismissed and retired teachers from holding union membership. In general, labor unions still face considerable difficulty in organizing. For example, businesses can sue labor unions for compensation for “lost profits” during strikes, and civil servants are also limited in their political freedom. Most importantly, the National Security Law that limits the freedom of expression remains the biggest obstacle to improving political rights in Korea.
Citations:
Amnesty International Report, https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/asia-and-the-pacific/south-korea/
Freedom House. “Freedom in the World 2016: South Korea.” https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2016/south-korea
teachers-union/
4
Hungary
The Orbán government has shown little respect for political liberties. In Putin style, Orbán and other Fidesz leaders have defamed opposition activists as traitors to the Hungarian nation and as foreign agents paid by George Soros. In September 2017, Antal Rogán, the influential head of the prime minister’s cabinet office accused the democratic opposition of planning to turn to violent actions before the elections. The vice-president of Fidesz, Szilárd Németh, has called Márton Gulyás, Gábor Vágó and Árpád Schelling, three well-known public activists subscribing to peaceful public disobedience, “terrorists.” Moreover, the government has used “soft violence” against demonstrators at public or political events by relying on aggressively acting “private” security services (e.g., Valton Security). The most notorious cases of “baldheaded aggression,” as the behavior of the frequently baldheaded security people has been called in popular parlance, took place during the Putin visit and Orbán’s national holiday speech on October 23. Finally, the new NGO-legislation passed in June 2017 has aimed at further weakening civil society.
Mexico
Political liberties are guaranteed by law, and public debate and electoral competition are meaningful. If political rights are violated, citizens have access to electoral courts which are generally professional and effective. Recently, however, the independence of the electoral justice system has been called into question. In October 2017, the prosecutor for election-related crimes was fired after an interview in which he accused the former director of the state oil company Pemex, a close ally of the president, of receiving bribes and funneling illegal funds to the president’s party as part of the Odebrecht corruption scandal that has rattled political elites across Latin America.

In many parts of the country, high levels of criminal violence undermine democracy. Public officials, especially at the local level, are kidnapped, harassed and even murdered with impunity. Journalists and activists are also targeted. While the lack of credible and capable legal investigations in such cases makes it impossible to know the true extent of the problem, there is considerable evidence that authorities are not merely inept. Rather, they are sometimes complicit in violating citizens’ political liberties. The justice system has proven to be particularly ineffective in prosecuting powerful rights violators. During the past year, the failure of authorities to arrest and prosecute several (former) governors suspected of corruption, money laundering and links to organized crime illustrated this shortcoming forcefully.
Citations:
Schedler, A. (2014). The criminal subversion of Mexican democracy. Journal of Democracy, 25(1), 5-18.

Latin American Regional Report: Mexico & NAFTA (December 2016). “The curious case of the missing Mexican former governors.”
3
Turkey
Whereas the freedoms of thought, conscience and religion are generally respected, official violations of the freedoms of expression and assembly occur, particularly when criticism of the ruling government and its policies is involved. Several key pieces of legislation adopted regarding the rule of law and fundamental rights were not in line with European standards, such as the law on data protection. The constitutional amendment to parliamentary immunities adoption in May 2016 allowed lifting immunity for a large number of deputies, and resulted in the detentions and arrests of several HDP members of parliament, including the two co-chairs in November 2016. Following the 2015 parliamentary elections, a peaceful solution for the Kurdish issue was replaced by a “nationalist” anti-terror policy by the government.

A highly controversial Internal Security Law adopted in March 2015 granted the police the power to detain a person caught in the act of committing a crime. A person can be kept in custody for 24 hours without seeing a judge, and this period can be extended to 48 hours if the police deem that a “collective crime” has been committed. The police forces have been allowed to use firearms against demonstrators, deepening fears of crackdowns on dissent ahead of parliamentary elections. This law was considered a threat to the Turkish state’s conflict-resolution negotiations with the PKK, and a means of attracting nationalist votes for the AKP.

In the Penal Courts of Peace established in July 2014, single judges have the authority to issue search warrants and approve detentions and the seizure of property. Judges have been criticized for undermining the public’s trust in the judiciary due to the arbitrary nature of their detainments, arrests and judgments.

The European Commission stated during the review period that the freedoms of expression and assembly have become major shortcomings in Turkey. Intimidation of journalists, up to and including physical attacks, has taken place. The Commission advised Turkey to improve monitoring of the implementation of the Action Plan on Prevention of ECHR Violations (adopted in March 2014). The Commission’s 2016 Progress Report identified several major weaknesses, including: the intimidation of and denial of accreditation to journalists; the government’s blocking of websites with or without a court decision; the lack of editorial independence within the public broadcast system, especially during the elections; and media ownership transparency more generally. The number of journalists in prison increased during the review period.

Although bans on social media imposed by the government in early 2014 were subsequently lifted by the Constitutional Court, legal provisions limiting the free use of the internet, presented as necessary for “national security and protection of the public order,” have raised additional concerns. Wikipedia has been suspended due to its anti-government content.

Human Rights Association of Turkey reported that the state of emergency has exceeded its initial purpose and become a permanent practice. This violates Turkey’s constitution (Article 15), the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 15) and the U.N. Civil Code (Article 4). Laws passed by decree have been used on almost every subject. In total, about 300 legislative changes have been passed by decree. In an extensive report on Turkey’s state of emergency, Common Platform for Human Rights identified 12 constitutional violations between 21 July 2016 and 9 February 2017. All rules and practices related to municipal bodies are regulated through Municipal Law 5393 (Articles 38, 39 and 40), which was amended by Decree 674. The number of municipalities to which a trustee has been assigned has reached 80. A total of 320 refusal decisions made by Administrative Courts across Turkey. The Constitutional Court ruled that it is beyond its authority to review state of emergency decrees. In the aftermath of the coup attempt, the government seized numerous Gülenist companies and confiscated property worth nearly €10 billion.

The European Court of Human Rights declared 25,000 applications inadmissible for failure to exhaust domestic remedies. However, the European Court of Human Rights’ decisions contradicted statements made by the Venice Commission and the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe concerning Turkey’s state of emergency. The Secretary-General of the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission proposed creating an independent ad hoc Turkish body to examine individual dismissed cases, subject to judicial review. Subsequently, the Turkish government issued Decree 685 on 23 January 2017, establishing a commission to review its state of emergency procedures. It is expected that the commission will make its first decisions by the end of 2017.
Citations:
İnsan Hakları Ortak Platformu, Fact Sheet State of Emergency Measures In Turkey, 23 February 2017, https://bianet.org/english/politics/184123-21-statutory-decrees-under-state-of-emergency
World Justice Project, Rule of Law Index 2016, https://worldjusticeproject.org/sites/default/files/documents/RoLI_Final-Digital _0.pdf (accessed 1 November 2017)European Commission, Turkey 2016 Report, Brussels, 9.11.2016, http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2016/20161109_report_turkey.pd f (accessed 1 November 2016).
Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2016, https://freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/FH_FTOP_2016Report_Final_04232016.p df (accessed 1 November 2016)
Web Index Report 2014-2015, http://webfoundation.org/about/research/the-2014-15-web-index/ (accessed 27 October 2015)
 
Political liberties are unsatisfactory codified and frequently violated.
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