Over three billion people on Earth live in countries where the civic space for free expression, peaceful assembly, or free association is curtailed or closed. That’s according to the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform launched in a beta version last October to track such limitations. An interactive map links to news on authorities’ treatment of protests, the suppression of media, and other crackdowns on civil society in 134 countries. This data contributes to a rating of each nation’s current freedom of civic space.
CIVICUS is an international alliance of civil society organizations and activists, and this new initiative offers a hub for available data on civic space that was previously dispersed across various resources. In a release, Dr. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, secretary-general of CIVICUS, noted an overarching trend: “far from valuing citizen action, states are cracking down on protesters, shutting down organizations on the flimsiest of pretexts, and brutally silencing dissent. Governments should not fear people power, they should be harnessing its potential.”
Each country on the monitor is given one of five ratings: closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed, or open. Only nine fall into the last category — Andorra, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden — while countries like Sudan and Syria are “closed.” Recent updates on the platform cite threats of deportation for refugees in Bulgaria following a demonstration, the teargassing of people protesting executions in Bahrain, the repression of Argentinian indigenous communities fighting the appropriation of ancestral territory by the company Benetton, and the crackdown on criticism and free media in Turkey. Users can add their own comments through the “Have Your Say” function.
The United States is currently rated as “narrowed.” Although Americans can freely associate, peacefully assemble, and express their opinions, there are limits to the protections of civic space, as demonstrated by the NYPD’s monitoring of Black Lives Matter and the invasion of privacy by the NSA. And our freedoms remain under threat.
Spencer Woodman at the Intercept recently reported that lawmakers in eight states have proposed bills that would criminalize or curtail peaceful protest. For instance, in Minnesota, a House panel passed a bill that would permit cities to charge protesters for police work if they were convicted of illegal assembly or public nuisance. In North Dakota, site of the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, a bill would allow a driver to hit and even kill a pedestrian without liability if that person was blocking traffic on a public road or highway. Around the world, governments are curtailing civic freedom by detaining activists, using excessive force, and attacking journalists. That freedom is not a certainty in the United States.
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