Sign up for updates
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

The Global Expression Report 2023
Insights and Analysis

Freedom of expression is under threat and in decline. Ordinary people, as well as professional communicators and activists, face a plethora of threats – some new and some age-old – while simply trying to live our lives, have a say over how we are governed, and engage with the societies in which we live. 

These threats are posed not just by autocratic governments, but also by legislation and law enforcement within democratic structures that erode the enjoyment of human rights, as well as by corporate interests and organised crime. Where those groups and their interests overlap, freedoms are in acute danger.

The bigger picture is grim: the Varieties of Democracy Institute (V-Dem, which produces the indicators for the Global Expression Report) shows that advances in global levels of democracy made over the last 35 years have been wiped out. People now experience limits on their democratic rights at levels not seen since 1986.

Conflict is the greatest and most immediate threat to free speech, particularly for those on the frontlines of expression: In 2022, journalists and human rights defenders were predominantly killed in countries suffering from conflicts, either internal or international. 

However, political violence targeting civilians also became more common – and more deadly – during 2022, with more than 125,700 events globally leading to over 145,500 reported fatalities.

- 401 human rights defenders were murdered in 2022, including 186 in Colombia, 50 in Ukraine, and 45 in Mexico. 48% of those murdered were defending land, environmental, and Indigenous peoples’ rights.
- 87 journalists were murdered in 2022 – 33 more than in 2021 – including 19 in Mexico and 10 in Ukraine. 64 more were missing in 2022
- At the end of 2022, 363 journalists were behind bars. The top jailers were Iran, China, Myanmar, Turkey, and Belarus.

While the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine dominated the global conflict landscape as well as the headlines in 2022, violence also intensified in places like Myanmar and the Sahel, as did criminal violence and conflict in Latin America and the Caribbean, while domestic unrest and state violence against protest escalated in places like Iran. 

These statistics are just the tip of the iceberg, and impunity is the norm. Where attacks on expression are this common – and this brazen – against those on the frontline, entire populations are suffering acute restrictions on their freedom of expression.

The Global Expression Report shows us the wider situation for freedom of expression: our data includes a broad range of indicators that measure how free we all are, regardless of the nature of our work or role in society. 

Our data reveals significant declines in societies of all sorts – both democratic and autocratic – as well as authoritarian regimes maintaining scores so low they have nowhere left to fall, even as dictatorships dig in their heels and violent repression spikes.

Global Insights

The Global Expression Score (the mean average of country scores) has fallen by 6 points during the last decade, but the Human Score (weighted by population) – which shows the real cost of losses of freedom across the world – has dropped 13 points in just a decade.
The divergence between these scores is recent: between 2000 and 2012, the Human Score held steady – more or less in line with the Global Expression Score – but declines began to accelerate a decade ago.
Fewer people live in Open countries than at any time within the last decade: only 13% of the global population now live in countries with scores between 80 and 100.

In 2012, the bottom 3 categories (Restricted, Highly Restricted, and Crisis) held 48% of the population: under 3 billion people. Those categories now hold 78% of the population: more than 6 billion live in countries with scores of under 60.
80% of the global population live with more repression than they suffered a decade ago: that’s 6.3 billion people in 81 countries. In the same period, only 452 million people across 21 countries have experienced advances. The remaining global population lives in stagnant environments for freedom of expression.

In comparison to 2021, 2022 was not a year of dramatic shifts like that of Afghanistan and Myanmar (the metric’s biggest 1-year drops in decades) but rather a year of consolidating autocracies, entrenching repression, and ongoing silence.

Much of this degradation is incremental and happens at neither the upper nor lower ends of the scale. There were no new countries in either the Open or Crisis categories, both of which show remarkable consistency: countries in these categories tend to stay there (91% of Open countries have been Open for the entirety of the last decade).

Countries in the middle 3 categories tend to move around much more, and much of the downwards shift in scores in recent years has come from those middle-scoring countries. 

Regional Insights

At the turn of the 21st century, the Europe and Central Asia region was dominated by Open countries: The majority of the population lived in countries with higher scores. Now, it is the most polarised region, with large numbers of people having shifted into either the top or bottom (Open or Crisis) categories, particularly over the last decade. In the year 2000, 63% of people lived in those 2 categories; by 2022, this had risen to 82%. However, the countries with the top 10 global scores are all from this region.
The Asia and the Pacific region has seen a squeeze on its middle categories over the last 2 decades. Though the count of countries per category has not changed dramatically since the year 2000, the population per category has seen a drastic shift: out of Less Restricted, through Restricted, and downwards into Highly Restricted. Countries with big populations, including China and India, have caused big changes to the region’s overall freedom of expression.
In 2000, 54% of the population of Asia Pacific lived in the bottom 3 categories (Crisis, Highly Restricted, and Restricted), but by 2022 this had grown to 95%. The region’s Human Score is only half its Regional Expression Score (a bigger divide than in any other region): just more evidence of the dire situation in the region and the huge populations living in countries where their rights are being eroded.

Two regions of the world have no countries categorised as Open: Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East and North Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa lost its last Open country (Ghana) in 2019, while the Middle East and North Africa has not had an Open country since the year 2000 and has – by some margin – the lowest Regional Expression Score and Human Score in the world.
There were, however, score hikes in several African states last year (Zambia, Lesotho, Tanzania, and Burundi). Sub-Saharan Africa is over-represented in terms of advances over each of the 3 timeframes we measure: the region constitutes 57% of advances between 2021 and 2022, 36% between 2017 and 2022, and 43% between 2012 and 2022.

The Americas’ Human Score has fallen by 13 points since 2012. Though the region has one of the largest proportions of populations living in Open countries (71%), the sub-region of Latin America and the Caribbean paints a very different picture (only 54%).  

Shifting Power

Power is moving away from democratic governance towards autocratic and authoritarian systems.

This dangerous shift can be clearly seen in the number of countries sliding down the scale and the increasing number of people who face repression.
It can also be seen in another shifting form of power. When we calculate the combined gross domestic product (GDP) of countries in each category, we see a stark shift during this century: the economic weight of repressive countries is on the rise.
Countries in crisis have gained enormous economic power over the last 20 years,  measured both quantitatively (i.e. in USD) and as a proportion of global GDP. Open countries, meanwhile, have gone from wielding 63% of the world’s economic power to wielding just 39% – a 24 percentage point drop over the 21st century, and only a few percent more than is wielded by countries in Crisis (having formerly held more than 4 times as much). 

This increased economic power creates a situation of impunity for some regimes, including India and China. Those who govern nations involved in trading with autocratic countries routinely offer arguments about economic expediency, maintaining friendly relations that privilege putative or short-term economic benefits over human rights.

Russia’s War on Ukraine

The Russian Federation’s mounting atrocities and war crimes against Ukrainians had a significant impact on human rights and freedoms during 2022.   

The human cost of Russia’s war on Ukraine has been calculated as at least 17,000 civilian casualties, almost 7.9 million refugees, and 5.9 million internally displaced persons. Economic disruption has been intense: Few countries in the world were untouched by the impact of the energy and food crises arising from the invasion, as well as the knock-on effect of sanctions against Russia.  

So far during this war, Russian forces have committed hundreds of crimes against journalists and media workers (including murder) and attacks on communications infrastructure (including TV towers and DDOS attacks on Ukrainian online media). 

Russia’s leadership has also used the war as an excuse to intensify its persecution of journalists, protesters, dissenters, and loosely defined ‘enemies’ inside its own borders. Since Putin assumed power, Russia has seen an almost total collapse in civil and political rights, creating a perfect environment for corruption, impunity, and the execution of Putin’s imperialist aims. 
Over 250 media outlets were blocked in Russia, including foreign news outlets (such as BBC, Voice of America, and RFE/RL) and Novaya Gazeta Europe’s website (launched by the journalists in exile). Since 24 February 2022, under de facto military censorship, over 7,000 sites have been blocked having published war-related articles. 

Russia’s propaganda and disinformation campaign – in Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine, inside the country itself, and further afield – has led to a grave disintegration of information and reporting as a well-oiled propaganda machine continues to function in countries all over the world. 

Perpetual Repression

The Crisis category is one of the most consistent: countries in that category have often been there for the entirety of the last decade, showing little change despite ongoing or new atrocities – their scores have no further to fall.

Some of the year’s headlines for expression – including lethal responses to protest and accelerated asphyxiation of the freedom of expression environment – do not show up in the data simply because their scores were already too low to register these crackdowns. 
In September 2022, police in Iran murdered 22-year-old Jhina (Mahsa) Amini when she was in custody for wearing ‘improper’ hijab, sparking protests in 140 cities across the country against compulsory hijab – and state violence more broadly. 

The authorities responded with a brutal crackdown, including the use of shotguns, assault rifles, and handguns against peaceful protesters, killing hundreds. In the wake of the violence, Iran’s authorities carried out executions and adopted a raft of restrictive laws, further violating people’s rights to freedom of expression and assembly and shielding human rights violators from accountability.

Meanwhile, in China, President Xi Jinping secured an unprecedented third term as the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party as the country continued to suffer serious repression on the grounds of the Covid-19 pandemic; strict controls on online expression, protest, and activism; and ongoing oppression of religious and ethnic minorities.

Post-Crisis Consolidation

Large and sudden drops in score tend to be due to non-democratic changes in power, but many of these large drops and newcomers to the Crisis category – like Nicaragua and Belarus – show signs of staying in that category. 

The crackdowns and power grabs that have hit the headlines in recent years have been followed by autocratic leaders taking consistent actions to incrementally consolidate their hold on power, removing checks and balances on that power and silencing dissenting voices.  
In Myanmar and Afghanistan in 2022, we saw nothing akin to their plummeting scores  in 2021; both countries instead suffered stagnation and incremental decline, even as the Myanmar junta and Taliban continue to crack down fiercely on dissent, journalism, and civil rights. 

Conflict continues to rage across Myanmar and, since its coup, the military junta has arrested, tortured, and killed journalists. In Afghanistan, the Taliban fiercely suppressed the media and critics of Taliban rule amid forced closure of civil society organisations and extreme limits on women’s rights, including freedom of expression. 

Belarus and Nicaragua are suffering declines presided over by formerly legitimate (or at least once-elected) leaders who carried out power grabs and sham elections: We saw sudden score drops during crackdowns on speech and dissent (2017 in Nicaragua, 2020 in Belarus) followed by the consolidation of power under ‘zombie’ structures (hollowed-out democratic processes and institutions holding questionable elections amid ongoing repression).

Nicaragua’s journalists have fled into exile, some stripped of their citizenship entirely, amid sham trials in the country. Belarusian authorities have continued their repression of civil society and the press, which was exacerbated following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Red Flags for Tunisia

Long considered the lone success story of the Arab Spring, Tunisia’s score has begun to sink amid the crisis of democracy that broke out in 2022. 

The country’s deterioration in freedom of expression is marked by an upsurge in convictions, arrests, harassment, and prosecutions against journalists, as well as against social media users. The country’s authorities have also implemented restrictive controls on broadcasting, repressive cybercrime laws, and new election rules that threaten media independence.

Bright Spots in the Dark

Countries  with democratic transfers of power to liberal parties and coalition over the last year – like Colombia (+15), Lesotho (+6), and Slovenia (+11) – saw significant hikes in their Expression Scores. Zambia’s score rose by 31 points in 2022 amid the removal of defamation against the President from the criminal code, while Tanzania’s score rose 6 points, its environment opening up in the wake of former President John Magafuli’s death as the country removed a longstanding ban on opposition political parties. 

Sub-Saharan Africa is over-represented in terms of countries in advance in all of the key timescales: the region constitutes 7% of advances over the 1-year period, 36% over the 5-year period, and 43% over the 10-year period.
Data for
Certain events during 2022 showed us that the international community can come together, can demand accountability, and can make a difference, responding in a meaningful way to human rights abuses, repression, and autocracy through its numerous bodies and mechanisms – and, most importantly, through the actions of citizens. 
Some regime changes and conflicts grab the headlines, but many more do not. Much of the degradation of the environment for human rights is found in subtle changes to policy and insidious shifts in attitudes of those in power – sometimes even within democratic structures. 
"Those regressive policy shifts require an informed response."
Governments around the world design and use data sets related, for example, to inequities in housing, education, or access to clean water. Yet the twin rights under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – concerning the right to speak and the right to know – were thought of as unmeasurable until very recently. They are the means by which we access all other human rights, and yet our ability to understand how many people enjoyed access to these rights was extremely limited. 
With The Global Expression Report, we now have the means to inform ourselves about how we can protect and enhance our freedoms, which form the foundations we need to create more equitable, fair, and sustainable societies. As we intensify our collective efforts to reverse the alarming trends summarised in this report, it is we – citizens, organisers, leaders, and law-makers – who must continue to make the case for positive change.  
"we must continue to make the case for positive change."  
To aid our task, the Global Expression Report will publish periodic analysis based on the data and the trends across all regions of the world. So we invite you to stay in touch, stay informed, and sign up for further releases.     
Sign up for updates


An overview of the regional data, including scores, rankings, advances and declines – plus data download.
Sub-Saharan Africa
A map of Sub-Saharan Africa with different colour indicating freedom of expression scores.
A map of the Americas with different colour indicating freedom of expression scores.
Asia and the Pacific
A map of the Asia and the Pacific with different colour indicating freedom of expression scores.
Europe and Central Asia
A map of Europe and Central Asia with different colour indicating freedom of expression scores.
Middle East and North Africa
A map of the Middle East and North Africa with different colour indicating freedom of expression scores.
Sub-Saharan Africa
A map of the Americas with different colour indicating freedom of expression scores.
Asia and the Pacific
A map of the Asia and the Pacific with different colour indicating freedom of expression scores.
Europe and Central Asia
A map of Europe and Central Asia with different colour indicating freedom of expression scores.
Middle East and North Africa
A map of the Middle East and North Africa with different colour indicating freedom of expression scores.