Civil Rights and Political Liberties


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

All state institutions concede and effectively protect political liberties.
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 2018, over the course of two days, 10,000 people took part in 160 discussions across four areas. There is no state church in Estonia and religious freedom is guaranteed through the presence of 10 religious associations.
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. Since the criminal code covers ethnic agitation, courts are regularly faced with the delicate task of weighing the principle of freedom of speech against the principle of forbidding hate speech. In September 2018, the Court of Appeal in Turku upheld a ban on the Nordic Resistance Movement, a National Socialist organization, which is also active in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. 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
Political liberties are effectively protected under the Bill of Rights Act 1990. Those who believe that their rights have been infringed upon can file a suit before the High Court. Although the bill has the status of ordinary law and can be amended or repealed by a simple majority of parliament, every effort has been made to protect and enhance the integrity of the bill as a fundamental feature of New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements. 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.
Political liberties and human rights are written into the constitution. Sweden is a highly institutionalized advanced democracy. As such, it upholds all political liberties.
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.
Political liberties are respected by state institutions, and their observance is supervised by the courts. The presidential elections and the investiture of the Babiš government triggered large-scale protests, not seen in the country since the financial crisis. Protests are mostly concentrated in Prague and other larger cities and mostly attract young and educated citizens. Social media (Facebook) play an important role in mobilizing and enabling the organization of protests. Along with civil society, the mobilizing capacity of extreme right groups has also increased but protests remain small and localized, expressing opposition to an alleged threat of Islamization, against the presence of ethnic minorities, immigration, gender equality and LGBT and reproductive rights. Police have intervened when journalists and members of ethnic minorities have suffered physical attack. Civil society protests, happenings and demonstrations significantly outnumber the events by of uncivil society.
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. A new investigation of this case has been started, as new information has become available.
Amnesty International Annual Report: Denmark 2016/2017,

Amnesty International, Denmark 2017/2018, (Accessed 3 October 2018)

Amnesty International, Denmark: Human Rights in Review: 2011-2015. (accessed 8 October 2015).
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).
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 his judgement 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).
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 the period under review, small anarchist groups in large cities subverted the law, sporadically attacking foreign embassies as well as the homes of judges and journalists with whom they politically disagreed. The left/nationalist-right coalition government tolerated these attacks on the rule of law, essentially restricting the rights of the targeted citizens. The mayor of Thessaloniki (Greece’s second largest city) was physically attack by a far-right group and similar groups verbally attacked pro-government parliamentarians and government ministers. It is not the state, but rather uncontrolled groups of extremists which have begun restricting political rights, such as freedom of opinion.

Greece’s largest recognized minority population, the Muslim minority of Western Thrace, has full political rights; four members of the community won seats in the last parliamentary elections. However, the authorities have rejected some ethnic minorities’ attempts to register associations with names referring to their ethnic identity. Since 2010, documented immigrants have been allowed to vote in municipal elections.

The right to worship is limited by constitutionally imposed impediments on proselytizing 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 construction.
In the period under review, after many delays, the construction of the mosque was close to completion (and in fact was finally inaugurated in early June 2019
Freedom House Greece Profile 2018
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, together with the Progressive Party, is part of the current cabinet coalition led by the Left-Green Movement. The future of the new constitution and political liberties in Iceland remains uncertain.
David A. Carrillo (ed.) (2018), The Icelandic Federalist Papers, Ch. 20, Right to Information and Freedom of Expression, Berkeley Public Policy Press.
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. On 26 October 2018, the amendment to remove the offense of blasphemy from the Irish Constitution was passed by a margin of 64.85% to 35.15%. Notwithstanding this constitutional change, the Defamation Act 2009 has not been repealed. Section 36 of the act carries a maximum fine of €25,000 for the utterance of material that is “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion.” However, only the Director of Public Prosecutions can instigate proceedings under this act and given its wording many constitutional lawyers believe it is unworkable.
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.
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.
The freedoms of speech, the press, assembly and association are guaranteed under Article 21 of the constitution. Reported infringements 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.

An anti-hate-speech law has been in place since 2016, but has run into problems in terms of implementation. In particular, conflicts exist between efforts to guarantee free speech and to allow the operation of open public services such as websites that enable public comments. The Tokyo High Court ruled in 2018 that Saitama Prefecture had to financially compensate a woman whose nationalistic haiku, a type of poem, was refused by a community-center newsletter.
Michael Hoffman, Is Japan slipping into prewar politics?, The Japan Times, 3 June 2017,

N.N., High court’s haiku ruling upholds freedom of speech (Editorial), The Asahi Shimbun, 21 May 2018,

Kyodo, Lacking direction from Tokyo, Japan’s municipalities struggle to implement anti-hate speech law, The Japan Times, 24 May 2018,
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. For example, 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 courts and a rapid consideration schedule to ensure timely decisions. Between 2011 and 2013, all Riga city council decisions limiting the freedom of assembly that were appealed were overturned by the court.

In addition, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights noted that the Riga Higher Court’s 2017 order that the news portal TVNET should pay €50,000 to the Latvian National Opera and Ballet for reputational damage was disproportionate and raised concerns about the harmful effect of such a measure on the right to freedom of expression in the country. (TVNET had published an article criticizing the Latvian National Opera and Ballet for becoming a “public house of Putin’s court”).
Commissioner for Human Rights (2017), Latvia: disproportionate defamation fine against can chill media freedom, Available at:, Last assessed: 05.01.2019
Lithuanian institutions generally respect the freedoms of assembly and association. In 2017, 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. A new labor code, which came into force in 2017, provided additional instruments for the organization of strikes.
The 2018 freedom rating of Lithuania by the Freedom House is available at
No infringements of citizens’ rights to speak, assemble, organize, worship or petition occurred during the period under review. Political freedoms are guaranteed. All groups of society are depicted in the media and can be heard. Xenophobia and anti-Semitism are consistently punished by the courts. There are restrictions on civil servants’ freedom of expression, even when a civil servant represents civil society. Sanctions against civil servants were lifted by the courts during the period under review.
Caregari, Luc: “Informationszugang in Luxemburg.
Kein ´Nice to Have`.”, 2016, no. 364., pp. 23-25. Accessed 12 Dec. 2018.
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.
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 generally well.
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 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.
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 free 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.

The adoption and enactment (as of 1 May 2018) of the Intelligence and Security Services Act provoked widespread fear of the dragnet surveillance of private citizen communications. It resulted in a successful “no” campaign in the consultative referendum on this law, which forced the government to adjustment the law to accommodate public objections. Though a judge has ruled that pending the government’s reconsideration and adjustment of the law, the law could remain in force.
Freedom House, Freedom in the world 2018, Netherlands (freedom, consulted 25 October 2018)

Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens, Agenda 2016 (, consulted 9 November 2016)

De Telegraaf, Rechter: inlichtingenwet Wil blijft van kracht, 26 January, 2018 (, accessed 26 October 2018)
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 Communists and 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. From 2015 to 2018, restrictions imposed by many university campuses on speech deemed to offend one or more groups – primarily leftwing social justice, anti-racist, feminist and LGBTQ activists – received growing media and political attention. Some universities have barred conservative speakers from making appearances on campus, mostly citing security concerns that arise from leftwing 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 that violate constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech.

In one significant limitation to political rights, convicted felons are barred from voting in nearly all states, although usually not permanently. Florida passed legislature to restore voting rights for felons in 2018. 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).
All state institutions for the most part concede and protect political liberties. There are only few infringements.
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 seats in the Senate in the July 2016 federal election. At the same time, there are concerns that freedom of speech may suffer in Australian Universities. In November 2018, the federal government asked a former chief justice of the high court to review the health of freedom of speech on Australia’s university campuses.
Gareth Hutchens: Universities warn against meddling as inquiry into freedom of speech announced. The Guardian. 14 November 2018. Available at
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.”
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.
The state and the courts generally show a high degree of respect for civil rights and political liberties in Canada. In designing its anti-terrorism and national security laws, the government needs to strike a balance between the need to ensure public safety, and protecting the rights and freedoms of individuals.

In 2017, the federal government introduced Bill C-59, the National Security Act, in an attempt to comprehensively overhaul Canada’s national security laws, and enhance oversight and ministerial control, while addressing flaws in existing legislation, including constitutional problems, introduced by the Harper government in 2015. Human rights and civil liberty organizations have welcomed the new accountability framework proposed by the bill, but criticized its provisions to legally empower the national security agency to conduct mass surveillance and cyberattacks. The bill is currently before parliament.

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.
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.

Canadian Civil Liberty Association, Civil Society Statement regarding Bill C-59, posted at
In Slovakia, political rights are largely respected. Citizens can freely join independent political and civic groups. The Ministry of Interior has registered over 35Pr,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, the murder of Kuciak and Kušnírová evoked the biggest protests since the Velvet revolution in 1989. The movement “For a Decent Slovakia” that emerged from these protests continued to rally in autumn, criticizing the lack of progress made in investigating the murder. Prominent representatives of the governing coalition have defamed the demonstrators.
According to the most widely quoted comparative indices measuring the state of democracy, freedoms and the rule of law, Spain is considered to be a free full democracy (in the top 20). The country’s institutions are generally effective at protecting political liberties, subject to special protection against government (or even private) interference, though there are occasionally incidents of infringement.

During the period under review, several prominent artists protested against the 2015 law on public safety and an amendment to the Criminal Code’s Article 578 that increased the maximum penalty for “glorifying” terrorism and “humiliating” its victims to three years in prison. The protests were inspired in part by a jail sentence in February 2018 against a rapper whose song had contained aggressive lines criticizing politicians and members of the royal family. According to Freedom House and Amnesty International, at least 119 people have been convicted of speech-related “terrorism” offenses since 2011. The current government has announced that it intends to revise the law. In October, the parliament agreed to discuss reforms to the Criminal Code that would diminish penalties for crimes such as insulting the king, inciting terrorism and offending religious sentiments.
Freedom House (2018): Spain, t/freedom-world/2017/spain

Democracy Index 2018: Spain

Amnesty International (2018), Spain: Counter-terror law used to crush satire,
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. The saga of the Labour Party’s inability to counter allegations of systematic anti-Semitism continues.
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.
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
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. The interference of Christian Orthodox religion in schools is a source of pressure on minorities to attend religious ceremonies. Also, isolated complaints are reported on the state of places of worship and interferences with freedom of religion and worship rights.

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

Though a Supreme Court decision in 2016 considered the seizure of personal computers in a libel case as disproportionate, this practice continues as part of investigations. This raises serious concerns as no legal framework ensures that the handling of data on seized computers will follow procedures that respect the owner’s fundamental rights.

Libel was decriminalized in 2003 and courts in Cyprus apply European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) case-law to free expression. However, the number of libel cases remains high as does the number of threats to sue for libel/defamation by both public figures and businesses. This threatens media’s capacity to scrutinize public life and serve as society’s watchdog.

Our overall evaluation takes into account the negative effect on citizens’ liberties of the clientelist system, which continues to undermine individual fundamental rights.
1. Department of State Report on Religious Freedoms, Cyprus (released 2018)
2. Government stuns by agreeing reversal of pay cuts with unions, Cyprus Mail, 1 June 2018,
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. The Maltese judiciary serves as the ultimate guarantor of Maltese rights and liberties, and governments respect court decisions. Maltese citizens also have the right to take a case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and several individuals have done so with success. The Ombudsman also plays a part in the protection of civil liberties. A traditionally clientelistic and partisan approach to politics has in the past hindered the exercise of individual political liberties, although this seems to be less marked today, as the Maltese are strong users of social media, and frequently use these platforms to air their views on political issues. 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 2018 Freedom House index downgraded Malta’s score in terms of political rights from a four to a three, citing a lack of transparency in the allocation and terms of public contracts, and the influence of powerful economic interest groups in national politics. 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. The right to a lawyer during police interrogation has now been fully implemented. However, Malta has one of the EU’s weakest systems for allocating legal aid, and lawyers appointed under this system have at times been found to have failed to fulfill their duty. Legal aid lawyers are very poorly paid. The current threshold to be eligible for legal aid is also very low.
Migrant Integration Policy Index.
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
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
Times of Malta 23/02/18 Legal Aid system must work
Freedom in the world: Malta 2018
Romanians have made significant use of their political liberties throughout 2018, with multiple anti-government and anti-corruption demonstrations taking place throughout the country. In January 2018, thousands gathered in Bucharest and other major cities to protest against amendments made to laws and criminal codes. In May 2018, an estimated 5,000 gathered in Victoria Square to continue protesting the modification of the criminal codes, the attempt to change DNA leadership and proposed modifications to the constitution. In June 2018, over 2,000 protesters who walked 12 kilometers in Sibiu demanded for the resignation of the PSD’s Dragnea and Prime Minister Dăncilă, following Dragnea’s Supreme Court conviction for instigating abuse. Finally, on August 10, protests in Bucharest and other major cities were attended by an estimated 150,000 people – the largest number since February of 2017. 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 police. The protests on August 10 left about 450 treated for injuries behind.
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, as funding decisions will be made by the newly created National Institute of Freedom, which is controlled by the PiS.
Amnesty International (2017): Poland: On the Streets to defend Human Rights. Harassment, Surveillance and Prosecution of Protesters. London (

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 (
South Korea
Political liberties are protected by the constitution, but infringements do take place. Most importantly, the National Security Law remains the biggest obstacle not just to freedom of expression but also to political rights, because it can be abused for political purposes. The freedoms of opinion and of the press are constitutionally guaranteed, and while the situation has improved under the Moon administration, problems remain particularly when it comes to the freedoms of association and assembly. For example, the government still refuses to legalize the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) because it allows employees who have been fired to remain members. In general, labor unions still face considerable difficulties 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. Labor unions are still legally limited in their freedom to engage in political activities. In May 2018, Han Sang-gyun, president of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, was finally released from prison after serving almost two and a half years; he had been made legally responsible for what Amnesty International calls “sporadic clashes between protesters and police, and for his role in organizing a series of largely peaceful anti-government protests in 2014 and 2015.” The Supreme Court ruling dissolving the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) for allegedly plotting an armed rebellion in 2014 remains in force, and former UPP lawmaker Lee Seok-ki remains in prison.
Amnesty International Report 2017/18,
Human Rights Watch,
State institutions concede political liberties but infringements occur regularly in practice.
Israel’s lack of a constitution means that the guarantee of political rights is confided to status of 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 pieces of proposed legislation appear to undermine aspects of democracy and due process.

In addition, the Transparency Requirements for Parties Supported by Foreign State Entities Bill, which requires NGOs that receive more than half of their income from foreign governments to report annually to the registrar of non-profit associations in the Ministry of Justice. The bill was criticized as applying almost exclusively to human rights and left-wing organizations. As the Ministry of Justice reported, there are only 27 organizations in Israel that get more than half their funding from foreign governments. Of these, 25 are human rights organizations identified with the left.

Other problematic legislation include: the Entry to Israel Bill, prohibiting persons who support a boycott against the State of Israel from entering Israel, which has been passed by the Knesset; an amendment to the law on Contempt of the Flag, proposing significantly stricter penalties on those who damage the flag of Israel, which has been passed by the Knesset; and an amendment to the State Education Bill, preventing the activities of organizations that oppose educational values and the IDF, which is currently awaiting approval by the Knesset. However, many problematic proposals did not win parliamentary passage or were eventually softened in part due to public opposition.

A recent example of the consequences of these bills is the Entry to Israel. In September 2018, authorities denied Lara Alqasem entrance into Israel, because she was accused of being a BDS supporter. Eventually, after pressure from the Hebrew University at which Alqasem had intended to study in, the high court struck down the state’s decision.
Ben Shitrit, Lihi, “Israel’s Shrinking Democracy.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 10.03.2016:

Cohen, Hanan. “The Nakba Law,” IDI, 24.05.2014:

Dahan, Tal, “Situation report: The state of human rights in Israel and the OPT 2016,” The Association for Civil Rights in Israel,

“Freedom in the world 2017,” Freedomhouse website: 

“Escalation in Israeli Minister’s Culture War,” Haaretz, 8/9/2017:

“Israel minister pursues tougher anti-BDS law,” Memo Middle Rast Monitor, 2/11/2017:

Knesset Press Release “Knesset passes NGO transparency law,” 12.07.2016, (Hebrew)

Lis, Jonathan, Yair Ashkenazi, Jack Khoury and Sharon Pulwer, “Israel’s Nationalistic ‘Loyalty in Culture’ Bill Passes Legal Test,” Haaretz, 25/2/2016:

“Project Democracy: The Arab minority,” The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (October 2010).

Steinber, Jessica, Miri Regev’s cultural war heats, The Times of Israel, 29/1/2016:

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

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. In 2018, 133 candidates and politicians have been killed. Journalists and activists are also targeted and, since 2000, 138 journalists have been killed and 24 disappeared.

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. There are 14 current or former governors suspected of corruption, money laundering and links to organized crime currently under investigation, but impunity for corruption-related crimes is 98% and high-level politicians are rarely sentenced or impeached.

Hence, Latinobarometro polls indicate that satisfaction with democracy in Mexico has fallen from 41% in 2006 to 18% in 2017, while support for democracy has fallen from 54% in 2006 to 38% in 2017.
Schedler, A. (2014). The criminal subversion of Mexican democracy. Journal of Democracy, 25(1), 5-18.

Amparo Casar, Maria (2018). The Shadow Hanging Over Mexico’s 2018 Elections. Americas Quarterly,
The Orbán governments have shown little respect for political liberties. They have harassed NGOs and have used “soft violence” against demonstrators at public or political events by relying on aggressively acting “private” security services (e.g., Valton Security). 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. During the period under review, a tough campaign involving threats and intimidation was waged against Hungarian members of the European Parliament and others who have expressed support of the Sargentini Report. The “Stop Soros” legislation and the 7th amendment of the constitution, both adopted in June 2018, have formalized the attack on political liberties. Both have contained a criminalization of activities connected to immigration or assisting refugees. Beyond this, the government has introduced a new privacy protection principle aimed at protecting politicians from criticism, whistleblowing and investigative journalism. Finally, assembly rights have been restricted by not allowing public protests and mass gatherings that could disturb the “privacy of people,” in other words, demonstrations that are held close to the politicians’ private homes.
Amnesty International (2018): Hungary: New Laws That Violate Human Rights, Threaten Civil Society and Undermine the Rule of Law Should be Shelved. London (

European Parliament (2018): Report on a proposal calling on the Council to determine, pursuant to Article 7(1) of the Treaty on European Union, the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded (“Sargentini-Report”). A8-0250/2018, Strasbourg (

Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (2018): Summary of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union’s analysis of the new bill on the Right to Assembly, July 24, Budapest (
Political liberties are unsatisfactory codified and frequently violated.
During the review period, Turkey’s human rights status declined from partly free to not free. The country’s score has been in free fall since 2014 due to restrictions on the press, journalists, social media users, protesters, political parties, the judiciary and the electoral system. Following the 15 July 2016 coup attempt and the 2017 constitutional amendment, control over the state and society has become increasingly centralized and personalized, while domestic and regional security has deteriorated.

The U.N. OHCHR noted that several state of emergency decrees regulated various matters unrelated to the state of emergency powers. For instance, the closure of civil society organizations and medical centers seemed to indicate that the state of emergency was used to limit various legitimate activities. Meanwhile, under state of emergency powers, civil liberties were severely undermined by government interference in the work of the judiciary, the curtailment of parliamentary oversight over the executive branch of government, the mass dismissal of civil servants and private sector employees, the closure of civil society organizations and media outlets, the prosecution of human rights activists, the use of torture during pretrial detention, further restrictions on freedom of expression and movement, and the expropriation of private property.

During the review period, the European Commission stated that, although the legal framework includes general guarantees, human and fundamental rights have been undermined by a number of emergency decrees and need to be effectively implemented. Freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and procedural and property rights have been seriously undermined. Severe restrictions were imposed on the activities of journalists, human rights advocates and government critics. Measures adopted under the state of emergency also removed crucial safeguards protecting detainees from abuse, augmenting the risk of impunity for the perpetrators of abuse, in a context where allegations of ill-treatment and torture have increased. The Ombudsman, the National Human Rights and Equality Institution, prosecutors’ offices, criminal courts and parliament’s Human Rights Commission were authorized to investigate reports of abuses perpetrated by the security forces, including killings, torture, mistreatment and excessive use of force. Enforcement of rights is hindered by the fragmentation and limited independence of public institutions responsible for protecting human rights and freedoms, and by the lack of judicial independence.

During the two year state of emergency period, 1,767 associations, foundations, trade unions and federations; 1,107 educational and health institutions; and about 180 media outlets were closed down by decree. A total of 135,856 civil servants were dismissed, only 3,752 civil servants were later reinstated.

Gender-based violence, and discrimination, hate speech, hate crimes and human rights violations against minority groups (e.g., LGBT and intersex persons) are still a matter of serious concern. More than 3.4 million Syrian refugees were provided basic services by the central and local administrations, although a large majority of refugee children lack access to education and few adults are able to obtain formal employment. Local hostility toward Syrians increased in 2017, according to the International Crisis Group, with at least 35 people killed in intercommunal violence.

The constitutional amendment to parliamentary immunities adopted in May 2016 lifted immunity for a large number of deputies, and resulted in the detention and arrest of several HDP members of parliament, including the two party co-chairs in November 2016.

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 94 over the last two years. The Constitutional Court ruled that it is beyond its authority to review state of emergency decrees.
TBMM İnsan Hakları İnceleme Komisyonu, 26. Yasama Dönemi II. Devre Faaliyet Raporu 6 Aralık 2017 – 24 Haziran 2018, (accessed 1 November 2018)
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Report on the impact of the state of emergency on human rights in Turkey, including an update on the South-East January – December 2017 , March 2018,İnsan Hakları (accessed 1 November 2018)
World Justice Project, Rule of Law Index 2017-2018, -Online-Edition_0.pdf (accessed 1 November 2018)
European Commission, Turkey 2018 Report, Brussels, 17.4.2018, report.pdf (accessed 1 November 2018)
Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2018, Turkey Profile (accessed 1 November 2018)
Freedom House, Freedom on the Net 2018: The Rise of Digital Authoritarianism, itarianism (accessed 1 November 2018)
DİSK, OHAL’in İki Yılının ve Başkanlık Rejiminin Çalışma Hayatına Etkileri, 21 July 2018, (accessed 1 November 2018)
Human Rights Joint Platform, Updated Situation Report- State of Emergency in Turkey 21 July 2016 – 20 March, 2018, (accessed 1 November 2018)
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