As Americans prepare to celebrate the 236th birthday of the Declaration of Independence and beliefs in liberty, equality and individual rights, including the right of every person to pursue happiness, 23 percent of the world’s population suffer under oppressive regimes where the people have no say in how they are governed, according to a 2012 Freedom House report on dictatorial governments. More than 1.6 billion people worldwide face severe consequences if they try to exercise their most basic rights, such as expressing their beliefs, assembling peacefully and organizing independently of the state. Citizens who risk asserting their rights in these repressive countries typically suffer harassment, persecution and imprisonment and are often subject to physical or psychological abuse. State control over public life is pervasive and individuals have little if any recourse to justice for crimes the state commits against them. The outlook is not all bad however, as the number of Worst of the Worst and Threshold countries has fallen over the years. From a peak of 38 such countries in 1984, the number has declined to 16 countries in 2011, due in large part with the move to multiparty systems from one-party states and military dictatorships and the collapse of communism in Europe.
(Image: © Ross Toro, LiveScience Contributor)