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Democratic decline in post-communist states continues, says Freedom House

"Nations in Transit," Freedom House's comprehensive report of 29 post-communist countries in Europe and Asia says 2009 states failed to reverse the pattern of democratic setbacks seen in the region over the past decade.

Compared to 2008, 14 of the states received a lower overall score based on indicators including the strength of civil society, level of corruption, electoral process and media independence. "The Nations in Transit findings suggest that there is a deep and ongoing governance crisis in the former Soviet Union," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor.

Among the trends relating to the press was the state encroachment on online media and bloggers. In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, for instance, both governments passed legislation that categorised websites as mass media outlets and thus brought bloggers under the same web of restrictive press laws that traditional media in those countries face. In Kazakhstan, critical bloggers were charged under a criminal code clause that penalises a person who "insults the honor and dignity of the president."

Libel was used as a weapon against journalists in several of the nascent democratic states. In Montenegro, libel carries whopping fines of up to €14,000 and last year, journalist Andrej Nikolaidis was sentenced to pay damages of €12,000 for articles he wrote that criticised a film director. Macedonia saw 160 libel cases against journalists in 2008 and 2009 while in Azerbaijan, criminal libel remained on the books despite widespread international censure.

Countries didn't rely solely on the courts to target journalists, however. In Moldova, journalists were prevented from entering the country to cover post-election violence on technicalities that hadn't been used to stop reporters crossing the border previously. Several human rights defenders and journalists in the region were also killed or jailed. Last year, Natalya Estemirova, who investigated human rights abuses in Chechnya, was kidnapped and murdered.

The picture was better, however, for most of the Balkan states. Despite slight setbacks, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia and Macedonia made improvements in areas such as independent media and electoral process, according to the report.

Nations in Transit 2010

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