FREEDOM HOUSE REPORT
The international rights group Freedom House said Wednesday that the prospect of an international system built on democratic ideals is under greater threat now than at any point in the past quarter-century.
Freedom House said in its annual roundup Wednesday that the state of democracy in 2014 was "exceptionally grim." Syria ranked the lowest in the just released annual report, but the group recorded more declines than gains in democratic freedoms around the world.
Freedom House said the one notable exception is Tunisia, which in 2014 became the first Arab country to achieve the status of "free" since Lebanon's civil war four decades ago.
A "troubling number" of economic powers and regionally influential nations slid backwards in their democratic standards, according to Wednesday's report. Dangers to freedom of expression were said to come from state surveillance, Internet restrictions, and curbs on the freedom to make individual decisions on things like education, employment, and travel. Russia, Venezuela, Egypt, Turkey, Thailand, Nigeria, Kenya, Azerbaijan, and Hungary were among the nations noted for such declines.
More troubling, Freedom House said, are more explicit rejections of democratic standards, such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine, "including the outright seizure and formal annexation of Crimea," which it noted as a "prime example."
Freedom House also said Chinese President Xi Jinping has grown more aggressive about defending disputed maritime territory, and as his anti-corruption sweep has reached deeply into the Communist party, the report says the probe has ignored the principles of due process.
Freedom House said governments such as Venezuela, Kenya, and China, have invoked terrorism laws to silence dissent.
North Korean Leader Expected to Visit Russia in May
North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong Un looks set to travel to Russia in May for his first foreign visit since succeeding his late father in office in 2011.
The South Korean news service Yonhap confirmed Wednesday Mr. Kim is among the North Korean delegation accepting an invitation to ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Germany in World War II.
Yonhap quoted the Russian government as saying "about 20 state leaders have confirmed their attendance, and the North Korean leader is among them."
If Mr. Kim does attend, it will be his first foreign visit since taking office. But Pyongyang could instead send Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's nominal head of state.
China was also a likely candidate for Kim Jong Un's first official foreign visit, but relations with North Korea's strongest ally have grown more tense since he took over from his father Kim Jong Il.
Both China and Russia have signed United Nations agreements punishing North Korea for continuing its nuclear arms development, but China has taken the stronger stance.
Sanctions drafted jointly by the United States and China were approved by the Security Council in March 2013. Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council.