Freedom of Association: Country Studies - Chile

Chile Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status: Free. Freedom Ranking: 1; Political Rights: 1; Civil Liberties: 1.



Since gaining independence from Spain in 1818, Chile has enjoyed a more democratic history than most Latin American countries. A “Golden Era of Democracy” began in 1932 and ended in 1973 with the overthrow of President Salvador Allende by General Augusto Pinochet. Chile endured 16 years of harsh military dictatorship until Chile’s voters defeated a referendum for continuing Pinochet’s rule in 1988 and returned the country to free elections in 1989. Since then, Chile has regained its place as one of the Western Hemisphere's most democratic countries. Chile has a long tradition of freedom of association and its free trade unions played an important role in resisting the Pinochet dictatorship and restoring the country’s democracy. Chile has a vibrant multiparty system with two main coalitions as well as smaller parties competing for positions in national and local elections. In 2013, voters returned Socialist Party leader Michelle Bachelet, the candidate of the New Majority coalition, to the presidency and New Majority retook the legislature from a conservative coalition that had held both houses of the congress since 2010.

Chile stretches 2,700 miles down the Pacific coast of Latin America from Peru south along the western borders of Bolivia and Argentina. Its most distinctive geographical feature is its small width which averages just 110 miles east to west (and never exceeds 150 miles). Chile’s overall area (756,000 sq. kilometers) places it 38th largest in the world (its claim to part of the Antarctica landmass would triple its size). The country's 18.2 million people (2016 estimate) are mostly white or mestizo (mixed race), but there is a small Amerindian population. Today, Chile is one of the best economic performers in Latin America (5th overall) and ranks 41st in the world, with $258 billion in nominal gross domestic product (GDP) for 2014, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In nominal gross national income (GNI) per capita, the IMF ranked Chile 53rd in 2015 ($13,331 per annum), a slight drop from 2013 but a significant improvement from its ranking of 76th in 2006. At the same time, Chile ranks highest in income inequality among 34 industrialized countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Transparency laws adopted in 2003 and 2007 have created conditions for high accountability of government actions, propelling Chile to 24th out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s 2016 index.


Precolonial Chile and the Spanish Conquest

Before the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century, the territory of Chile was divided by three main groups of Amerindians: the Inca-dominated north; the Araucanian people of the central-southern region; and tribes of the extreme south and Tierra del Fuego. In 1520, Ferdinand Magellan passed through the southern strait of the Western Hemisphere, now known as the Strait of Magellan, inaugurating a period of Spanish conquest of the western coast of Latin America. In 1540, an expedition by Pedro de Valdivia resulted in settlements in Santiago de Chile, Concepcion, and Valdivia. But in 1553, Pedro de Valdivia was prevented from going further, his forces defeated by the Mapuche, who continued to resist colonization until the late 19th century. Spain eventually established its dominance over much of Chile. After being subordinated to the viceroyalty of Peru, it became an autonomous colony after 1778.

The country served mostly as a source of food and animal products, not mineral wealth as in Peru and Bolivia. Agricultural settlers came to establish large estates, increasing the Spanish colonist population significantly after the mid–17th century. The estates were initially worked by the conquered indigenous people, and later by mestizo tenant farmers called inquilinos who were tied to the landowners through debt and barter relationships. The practice of outright slavery was not as significant in Chile as elsewhere in the Americas, with only a few thousand African slaves in the country during the colonial period. In 1823, Chile was among the first countries in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery.

Independence, Stable Governance, and Expanding Borders

Chile established local self-rule first in 1810 following Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion of Spain and his unseating of the Spanish royal government. As Napoleon’s empire collapsed and Ferdinand VII was restored to the throne, Spanish troops reestablished control over Chile in 1814. But the royalists were defeated in 1817 when Jose de San Martin and Bernardo O'Higgins brought an army over the Andes from Argentina and won the Battle of Chacabuco. Formal independence was declared in 1818. When San Martin went on to help liberate Peru, O'Higgins, the illegitimate son of a local notable's daughter and an Irish-born Spanish officer, became Chile's first "supreme director" or president. O'Higgins ruled until 1823. 

A constitution adopted in 1833 ended a period of instability and brought about a long stretch of stable governance with regular civilian transfers of power and only brief internal military interventions. While the constitution instituted a strong presidency and a weak legislature, the Congress gained greater authority in 1891 when legislators ousted President Jose Balmaceda for trying to establish a dictatorship. This action entrenched a multiparty parliamentary system, but suffrage remained restricted by literacy requirements and the dominant parties, the Conservatives and Liberals, represented property-owning classes. The country's current borders were largely established in 1881, when Chile and Argentina agreed to divide their territory along the Andean ridgeline and partition Tierra del Fuego. Chile also obtained the nitrate-rich Atacama region from Peru and Bolivia during the War of the Pacific (1879–84).

The "Golden Era" of Democracy

After a brief period of military rule, a civilian democracy was restored in 1932 with the election of Arturo Alessandri. The election marks the beginning of a 40-year period known as Chile's “golden era” of democracy. An earlier democratic constitution adopted in1925, suspended during military control, was restored. A new labor code enacted during this period legalized labor unions and strikes. In this period, Chile's politics initially were dominated by the middle-class Radical Party, which ruled in shifting coalitions among left- and right-wing parties. Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei won the presidency in 1964 and led his party to a congressional majority in parliamentary elections in 1965. He adopted the "Revolution in Liberty" platform, which included land reform, investment in education and housing, the "Chileanization" of the copper industry (taking majority stakes in US-owned copper mines), and expanding suffrage by lowering the age limit to 18 and eliminating literacy requirements.

Augusto Pinochet

 The Golden Era Ends: Allende and Pinochet

In the 1970 elections, Socialist Party leader Salvador Allende, the candidate of a left-wing coalition that included the Communist Party, won a plurality of 36 percent and was awarded the presidency by Congress. It was the first time Chile had elected a Marxist leader. Allende set out on a much more radical program than the Christian Democrats, nationalizing mines, industries, and large estates. He also established friendly relations with the Soviet Union and Cuba at a tense period in the Cold War. His policies, which caused major economic dislocation, faced broad political opposition from center and right political parties, business interests, and the military. In 1973, General Augusto Pinochet, with public support from the United States, led a military coup to depose Allende. During a massive assault on the presidential palace, Allende took his own life rather than surrender to arrest. Eighty people died during the coup.

Pinochet's Dictatorship and the Campaign for the NO.

Pinochet introduced a harsh military dictatorship marked by disappearances and extrajudicial killings of opponents (including assassinations outside the country), mass political detention, limitations on all basic freedoms, and suppression of Chile's democratic institutions. The regime's human rights violations isolated Chile from the democratic world, including the US, which was increasingly critical of Pinochet's rule. According to two commissions charged with documenting human rights violations after the return of democracy, more than 3,000 people were killed or “disappeared” and 38,254 were imprisoned or tortured under the 16 years of Pinochet’s dictatorship.

Popular protests beginning in 1983 failed to topple the government. An assassination attempt on Pinochet carried out by Marxist guerrillas in 1986 led to a severe crackdown. Already, a new constitution adopted in 1980 had entrenched Pinochet’s military regime. The constitution, however, required that a referendum be held after eight years on whether the general should rule for another eight-year term. Pinochet had included the provision as a nod to democratic formality, but a broad coalition of democratic political parties, trade unions, and civic groups turned the referendum into a genuine contest with the “Campaign for the NO.” Mass rallies were held, the country was adorned in “No Mas” (No More) shirts, buttons, and other paraphernalia, and citizens were mobilized to vote “No” to dictatorship and return the country to democracy. With the process under close scrutiny by the US and other foreign governments, electoral officials established relatively fair rules for the plebiscite. On October 5, 1988 the "No" vote won, 55 percent to 43 percent. Pinochet accepted the defeat. By terms of his own constitution, he had to step down as president, amend the constitution, and hold a presidential election within 17 months of the plebiscite.[A] broad coalition of democratic political parties, trade unions, and civic groups turned the referendum into a genuine contest with the 'Campaign of the NO.' . . . On October 5, 1988, the 'NO' vote won.

A New Democratic Era

A set of 54 constitutional reforms negotiated between the democratic parties and the government was approved by overwhelming margin in a referendum held in July 1989. The opposition agreed to maintain some of the military's institutional privileges (including a lifetime Senate seat for Pinochet), but it won on other issues, including the reestablishment of free elections and full democratic norms. In presidential elections held in December, Patricio Aylwin ran as the candidate of the anti-Pinochet Coalition of Parties for Democracy, known as the Concertación, which included the Christian Democrats, the Socialists, and the Radical Party, among others. Aylwin, from the Christian Democratic Party, soundly defeated a government-backed former finance minister and a third candidate. Aylwin's inauguration in March 1990 brought Chile back into the community of democratic nations.

The 1989 constitutional settlement left Pinochet and his cohorts with a degree of immunity regarding their past crimes by respecting a 1978 amnesty decree issued under the Pinochet regime. Pinochet, however, was detained by British authorities in London in 1998 on an extradition order issued by Spain’s Supreme Court, which asserted jurisdiction on international human rights grounds to try Pinochet for violating international human rights conventions. Released in 2000 for health reasons, Pinochet returned to Chile, where he faced charges of tax evasion in 2004. He died in December 2006 shortly after the Supreme Court withdrew his immunity as a lifetime Senator but before court proceedings in the case. The 1978 decree was subsequently revoked by the legislature, allowing the government to prosecute former officials and military officers for human rights violations. Of the more than 1,000 cases initiated against individuals for human rights abuses as of 2014, 260 people had been convicted, but only 60 served or are serving prison sentences.

Subsequent amendments to the constitution removed the charter's remaining nondemocratic provisions, including restoring civilian control over the military (top commanders are now appointed by the president) and expanding the powers of the bi-cameral legislature, comprised of a 120-member Chamber of Deputies and a 38-member Senate. Presidential terms were shortened from six to four years and a bar was put on serving consecutive terms.

Five presidential and five congressional elections have been held since 1990, along with regular off-year municipal elections. The Concertación won subsequent presidential elections in 1993 and 1999 and legislative elections in 1993, 1997, and 2001. In 2005, Socialist Party leader Michelle Bachelet won the presidential elections as the candidate of the Concertación, becoming the first female president in Chile’s history. She gained high popularity for revoking the amnesty of Pinochet-era officials and for infrastructure investment projects, especially in health and education. But she could not run for consecutive presidential terms. In January 2010, the candidate of the pro-business Coalition for Change, Sebastián Piñera, defeated the Concertacióncandidate. The Concertación also lost its majority in both legislative chambers of Congress, ending its 20-year political dominance and achieving a full civilian transfer of power.

Piñera earned initial popularity for his economic growth policies, reconstruction efforts following an earthquake in 2010, and for the government’s efforts the same year in saving 33 miners trapped for 69 days following a collapse of a gold mine. Starting in 2011, however, the Piñera government faced ongoing national student protests after the government proposed tuition increases. As the demonstrations continued, Piñera and parliament agreed to significantly increase the education budget, but the Coalition for Change government faced widespread criticism for its handling of the crisis and its popularity dropped entering the 2013 election campaign (see Current Issues below).

Freedom of Association

Chile has a long history of freedom of association dating from even before its independence from Spain. Its worker organizations and labor movements played an important part in Chile’s modern history and its democratic governments, but its organization within party-affiliated federations created divisions that contributed to the political turmoil of the Allende government that was overthrown by General Pinochet. Often at great cost, free trade unions strongly opposed the Pinochet dictatorship, which repressed freedom of association and tried to impose regime-controlled official unions. In the late 1980s, the free trade union federation was central to the Campaign for the NO, whose victory ended Pinochet’s rule. But the labor movement did not benefit significantly from succeeding democratic governments, which adhered to Pinochet’s free market economic policies and failed to significantly broaden worker rights. Recently, in response to student organizations and protests against inequities in Chile’s education system, there has been an attempt to address the country’s high level of income inequality and adopt a new labor law.

The Emergence of Chile’s Labor Movement [Pinochet's] regime, most union activity was illegal and unions linked to leftist political parties were banned.

Among the most significant early worker organizations were mutual aid societies initiated by Francisco Bilbao. A liberal reformer who had traveled to Europe and experienced the revolutionary events of 1848, he returned in 1850 to organize the Sociedad de la Igueldad (Society of Equality) in 1850, which attracted urban skilled workers and artisans. The Societies became centers for political radicalism in Chile’s conservative society and at one point helped organize a rebellion against a military takeover. Mostly, however, the hundreds of Societies, involving 600,000 workers by the turn of the century, promoted mutual aid programs for workers and worker education through newspapers. The first trade union was confederation of artisan workers organized in 1878. Textile and mining unions emerged in the 1880s, especially with the growing industrial exploitation of nitrate and copper mining. This early period of the labor movement featured some early victories for the eight-hour day but also violent and repressive clashes, similar to other countries. Notable in this history was the government’s campaign against the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) after it established offices in Chile in 1919. The government arrested almost 100 IWW members and destroyed the union’s print shops, assembly halls, and offices.

Party-Based Trade Union Movement Leads to Politicization

In the early 1900s, Luis Emilio Recabarren, a typesetter by trade, adopted a common labor strategy in Latin America of tying trade unions to political parties. When he was refused a seat in the legislature in 1906 (because as an atheist he refused to swear his oath of office on a Bible), he organized the Socialist Workers Party in 1912 and later the Communist Party in 1922, in each case allying the trade unions he helped organize to them. The right to organize unions was established in the 1925 constitution and workers increasingly grouped themselves into party-linked federations. Still, these unions generally succeeded in improving wages and conditions for Chile’s workers over time.  In the 1960s, left-wing unions and parties pushed for more radical policies than those initiated by President Eduardo Frei and the Christian Democrats. When the Socialist Salvador Allende set out to nationalize industries and redistribute land and wealth, the labor movement was divided in their response among communists, socialists, and Christian Democrats.

Pinochet's "Plan Laboral" and the Campaign for the "No"

After General Pinochet overthrew Allende in a coup, he set out to fully re-orient Chile’s economy away from state-directed policies towards a radical free market economy that would rid the country of its social welfare system and destroy collective organization. Among the first actions of the Pinochet dictatorship was to repress the independent labor movement. Under his regime, most union activity was illegal and unions linked to leftist political parties were outlawed. The 1979 Plan Laboral reintroduced collective bargaining but restricted it to the company, enterprise, or individual contract level and excluded federations or bargaining by trade or nationally. In many cases, the regime attempted to organize official pro-regime unions. But even with the law’s restrictions, workers undertook to re-organize independent unions and to try to prevent the “corporatization” of the labor movement. An attempt to organize national strikes in 1983 by opposition unions resulted in harsh repression. In response to Pinochet’s repressive labor policies, America’s labor federation, the AFL-CIO, petitioned the US government to suspend Chile’s preferential trade treatment under US law, which it did in 1988.

A new consensus emerged within the Chilean labor movement away from ideological division. After several failed attempts to form a unified trade union movement, labor leaders created the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT) federation. The CUT, together with other democratically oriented professional organizations like the Association of Teachers, played a significant role in pushing opposition political parties to form the Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia and participate jointly in the 1988 Campaign for the "No" vote that forced Pinochet from power (see above). The broadly based civic campaign renewed and reinvigorated Chile's civil society and continues to inspire citizen participation in the country today, as seen in the recent student protest movement.

Freedom of Association in Chile’s Second Golden Age of Democracy

While the Concertatión was an alliance of center-right and center-left parties, its initial leaders came from the center-right and generally continued Pinochet’s free market policies and limited the participation of CUT in setting policies. A labor reform bill adopted in 1990 expanded only slightly the rights of workers to bargain collectively at the enterprise level. A second labor reform bill introduced in 1995 stalled for six years in the conservative Senate but when finally passed it allowed some greater success for Chile’s unions. As in other developed countries, union membership rates are not as high as in earlier periods of industrialization, but since the 2001 reform bill passed union density increased from 13.1 percent of the workforce in 2001 to 15.8 percent in 2011 (more than 600,000 members). It is one of the few cases of increased unionization among industrialized countries in the last decade. Chilean labor law, however, continues to be based on the original 1979 Plan Laboral and retains restrictions on organizing and the right to strike as well as a controversial "needs of the company" clause, which allows dismissal of workers for economic downsizing, a provision frequently abused to fire union members or strike participants.

Chile has been a member of the ILO since its founding in 1919, but initially it only adopted two of the original core conventions. After the return of democracy in 1990, there was an effort to strengthen Chile’s adherence to international human rights conventions. By 2000, Chile had ratified all of the organization's eight core conventions, including Nos. 87 on freedom of association, No. and 98 on collective bargaining and the right to strike, No. 105 prohibiting forced labor, and No. 138 prohibiting child labor. In April 2011, Chile adopted Convention No. 187 on Occupational Safety and Health in the wake of the mining disaster that trapped 33 miners for 69 days and prompted changes in Chile’s mining practices. recent years, the most vibrant exercise of freedom of association, assembly and speech in Chile has been shown by students.

Current Issues

In recent years, the most vibrant exercise of freedom of association, assembly and speech in Chile has been shown by students. In 2006, students organized national protests to demand greater investment and key reforms in the education system. Michelle Bachelet, in her first term as president, responded to the sustained protests by increasing education spending and agreeing to greater student participation in education policy. In 2011, the student protest movement resumed when the conservative government of Sebastián Piñera enacted tuition increases for public universities. The increases threatened to price many students out of higher education — again highlighting the inequity of Chile’s education system.

A country that boasts some of the best education institutions in Latin America remains highly limited in its opportunities. Only 45 percent of student-age Chileans graduate from secondary school and many graduates cannot attend the mostly private university system. Over two years, the Confederation of Chilean Student Federations (ConFech) organized mass demonstrations, sometimes in the face of police force. In the largest one, in April 2012, 100,000 young people marched under the slogan “equal education for all.” The students’ demands included increases in state support for higher education, an opening up of the university system to the poor through tuition subsidies, and student representation in university structures. After some delay, the government of Sebastián Piñera responded to the demands by increasing education funding by $5 billion, but resisted efforts to enact universal public education at the secondary and higher education levels. He was highly criticized for the use of police force and arrests in quelling some of the initial student protests.

In this setting, the main left and right political coalitions held primaries for the first time to select presidential candidates for the 2013 elections. In a precedent for Chile (and for the Americas) the two leaders selected to run for the presidency were both women. Socialist Party leader Michelle Bachelet was the candidate of the New Majority coalition (which included most of the members of Concertación) and Evelyn Matthei, the candidate of the renamed center-right Alliance for Change. They faced off in a second-round election in December 2013 and Bachelet won with a resounding 62 percent of the vote. In the earlier November parliamentary elections, the New Majority also won a decisive victory, gaining a large majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies and a smaller majority in the Senate. As a result of the 2013 elections, Chile has now experienced a second peaceful transfer of power in the period following the Pinochet dictatorship.

In her campaign, Michelle Bachelet pledged to address Chile’s growing social inequities (the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranks Chile worst among its 34 members among developed nations in income inequality). She ran on a platform of raising corporate taxes to raise revenue for a plan of free universal public education and expanded opportunities for higher education. She also pledged to change the labor law entirely and to restore fully rights to organize unions and bargain collectively. Bachelet introduced the measures to Chile’s congress. The tax reform plan that increased corporate taxes and ended corporate tax exemptions quickly passed, as did some of her education program. Major student and labor demonstrations were organized in 2014 and 2015 supporting greater investment in education and passage of the new labor law, but both issues have stalled, along with Bachelet’s push to adopt a new constitution that would fully replace the current version (the amended 1980 constitution). The economy’s slowdown due to the halving of commodity prices (most notably copper, still Chile’s main export) has weakened the momentum for social and labor legislation, tax increases on business, and political reform. In addition, Bachelet’s popularity has declined precipitously to just 20 percent in the wake of several corruption scandals in her administration, one involving her son and daughter-in-law.

Freedom of Association: History


Early Forms of Association

The oldest independent associations were typically religious in origin. In medieval Western Europe, the most significant was the Roman Catholic Church. It maintained its own structure and self-governance, including in the many states where it represented the official religion. The Catholic Church also inspired spawned a variety of affiliated religious societies to which clergymen or laypeople could belong, including the knightly orders that participated in the Crusades. One, the Teutonic Order, conquered pagan territories in northeastern Europe and established its own form of government (see Country Studies of Germany and Estonia). The Middle Ages also featured the development of commercial towns and cities as autonomous corporations. They fostered merchants' associations, artisans' guilds, and other groupings, often with the blessing of the country’s ruler, usually a monarch. 

Monument to the Freemasons in Augusta, GA

The Freemasons

During the Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries), free associations emerged with no economic, religious, or royal connection. Among the most important were the Freemasons. When the skilled trade of masonry declined after the completion of the great European cathedrals, masons' lodges evolved from centers for apprenticeship and employment into fraternal orders. These orders organized across all professional fields and religious denominations and dedicated themselves to the general goals of brotherhood, equality, and peace. The first known group was the Grand Lodge of England, formed in 1717. Freemasonry spread across much of the world, but mostly to countries of the British Empire. Individual members played significant roles in the intellectual Enlightenment, the American and French Revolutions, and other historical events. The lodges' rituals and secrecy gave rise to many conspiracy theories about Freemasonry, but in fact these were adopted to evade repression by state authorities who feared for their power and privilege. The Masons’ influence owes more to their model of independent social organization and networking than to any master plan.

The rise of other secret political societies at the time of the French Revolution prompted the British Parliament to pass the Unlawful Societies Act in 1799, one of the first laws of the modern era aimed at repressing free association. The Freemasons were exempt from the ban on the condition that they reported their membership and activities to the authorities (a requirement that was repealed only in 1967). The fear of social unrest in that period led the Parliament to also pass the Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800, which banned trade union activity.

Civic participation, volunteerism, and the activities of non-governmental organizations in the US have only increased from the time of Tocqueville’s observations. America's civic life is one of its most widely admired features among emerging democracies abroad.


Tocqueville: The Importance of Civil Society in the US

The Reformation gave rise to many different Protestant denominations that favored the autonomy of individual congregations over the hierarchical authority and unity demanded by the Catholic Church. This tendency was especially pronounced in America, where the religious diversity of immigrant groups and the separation of church from state fostered a host of independent religious structures. The country's open economic environment also permitted the growth of businesses, corporations, and other commercial associations, as well as workers' and fraternal organizations. Civic groups and political parties arose out of America's colonial system and the nation's new form of self-government relied greatly on such citizen participation.

As the French politician Alexis de Tocqueville observed in his classic study Democracy in America (1835):

Americans of all ages, all conditions, [and] all minds constantly unite. Not only do they have commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but they also have a thousand other kinds: religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small. (Volume II, Part II, Chapter V.)

For Tocqueville, civil society is important not only to fulfill the purposes of democratic government but also to do all the small things that government could not do. Association in democratic countries, he wrote, was "the mother of science" upon which all other progress depended. Events in the 175 years since the publication of Democracy in America appear to support Tocqueville's observations. Civic participation, volunteerism, and the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the US have only increased from the time of Tocqueville’s observations. America's civic life is one of its most widely admired features among emerging democracies abroad.

The Clash of Economic Liberalism and Labor

Freedom of association has played a unique role in history through its clashes, sometimes violent, with political and economic liberalism. As noted in previous chapters (see especially Consent of the Governed and Economic Freedom), political and economic liberalism was intertwined in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. John Locke's seminal theory of self-government, for instance, arose in part from his belief in the fundamental right of private property. The economic side of liberalism envisioned free individuals, including employers and laborers, entering into individual contracts without any interference. Thus, many liberal reformers who campaigned for the abolition of slavery were also opposed to collective bargaining and organized labor. William Wilberforce, a great leader of the British abolitionist movement in the early 19th century, also championed the Combination Acts noted above that suppressed the organization of workers into trade unions. Despite the clear history of trade union organization benefiting both workers and liberal economies, the principle of freedom of association is still challenged.

The British Battlefield

Great Britain witnessed the first great clash between freedom of association and property rights, a clash that initially workers often lost. Agricultural improvements, population growth, and industrialization at the end of the 18th century created horrific working conditions in the country's factories. Under the Comination Acts, workers' attempts to organize unions were harshly suppressed. Radical reformer Francis Place described what he observed:

The suffering of persons employed in the cotton manufacture were beyond credibility; they were drawn
into combinations [trade unions], betrayed, prosecuted, convicted, sentenced, and monstrously severe
punishments inflicted on them; they were reduced to and kept in the most wretched state of existence.

The harsh penalties imposed by the Combination Acts and related anti-conspiracy laws — these included imprisonment or deportation to penal colonies like Australia — meant that early unions in Britain had to be formed in secret. Despite the risk of punishment by the state and organized violence by employers, numerous workers joined such groups and often engaged in desperate acts to improve their dismal standard of living. The most famous group was dubbed the Luddites, a group of textile workers who destroyed new industrial machinery that they blamed for lower wages and unemployment. Dozens of the saboteurs were executed after mass trials. Today, “Luddite” is used pejoratively to refer to people who cannot accept technological change, but knowing the impact of the Luddites broadens an understanding of their importance. Whigs and other reformers realized that the repressive use of Britain's harsh laws by employers had driven workers to violent extremes and eventually backed the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824.

The Rise of the British Labor Movement

The repeal of the Combination Acts resulted in the first substantial increase in the organization of trade unions and their grouping into national federations. In 1833, the first national federation was formed, the General National Consolidated Trades Union, which had some 500,000 members at its height. But the federation collapsed as a result of punitive actions against strikes. It was later replaced by an annual meeting of local trades councils called the Trades Union Congress (TUC), first organized in 1868. The TUC remains today the central federation of the British labor movement, representing nearly seven million workers.

Employer violence, lockouts, dismissals, and other actions against unions continued throughout the 19th and early parts of the 20th century. Workers used such strategies as mass petition campaigns (like the Chartist movement of 1838–48), national strikes, and creating a Labour Party, but in fact trade unions in Britain failed to achieve much decisive political power before World War II. Although it had participated in government coalitions previously, the first majority Labour Party government took office only in 1945, at which point major social legislation like national health insurance was passed. The issue of freedom of association and its scope continues to be debated in the United Kingdom. The enactment of several laws under Conservative Party Prime Ministers in the 1980s and early 1990s, which unions strongly opposed, established certain limits on trade union influence. Despite these infringements, the Trades Union Congress still represents more than 25 percent of the workforce and remains a strong force in the United Kingdom’s politics and economy.

The Rise of the US Labor Movement

US labor history is similar in many ways to the British experience. As in Great Britain, the labor movement in the United States was marked by employer and government resistance, including the use of violence, repression, and restrictions on union organization. These restrictions were especially directed at unions motivated by anarchist and socialist parties, which generally sought industry-wide or general workers' unions and advocated a radical change in government. Craft unions, the mainstay of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) formed in 1886, were also under severe pressure. But their closer-knit organization based on individual skilled trades restricted the options of employers to replace strikers with unskilled workers. Craft unions were thus better able to obtain improvements in wages and working conditions.

As labor concerns gained attention in politics, legislation was enacted to protect the right of association and curb the excesses of worker mistreatment related to industrial production. The first safety and workers' compensation laws were enacted in New York State following the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911. The employers had blocked the exits of the factory in order to prevent employees from leaving. The textile workers, mostly young immigrant women, were trapped: 146 workers perished in the fire or jumped to their deaths trying to escape it. This tragedy, the worst industrial accident in American history, resulted in the first real safety laws for workers in the US. It also propelled the growth of garment unions.

In the last 150 years, workers' movements have been central to achieving democracy in many countries. Free trade unions within established democracies have succeeded in enhancing living standards and workplace safety.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal reform program during the Great Depression completely changed the legal balance for workers. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, also known as the Wagner Act, established a federally recognized right to organize trade unions and bargain collectively. (The Fair Labor Standards Act established the eight-hour workday and the minimum wage.) As a result of the Wagner Act, union membership increased more than fourfold from 1933 to 1947. At the initiative of business groups, more restrictive laws were passed after World War II that limited the ability of workers to organize into unions (the Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffin Labor Acts). These laws and general employer resistance to unions (at least 10,000 workers are fired every year for trying to organize unions) has resulted in a decline of union density from a high of 33 percent of the workforce in 1955 to 11.5 percent in 2015. Still, even today, unions in the US represent nearly 15 million members (not including professional associations like doctors and lawyers) and continue to be influential in policy debates, political elections, legislation, and overall social life.

The International Scope of Freedom of Association

Struggles for freedom of association in all parts of the world share a common history. Most countries have seen violent suppression of worker actions, repression of trade unions, and intimidation of workers through demotion, dismissal, or other means. Despite such practices, workers in all countries have organized unions to represent their interests before private and government employers with the aim of improving conditions of work, securing general economic and social progress, and fostering democracy. In the last 150 years, workers' movements were central in achieving democracy in many countries (see recent cases in Country Studies of Chile, Poland, South Africa, and Tunisia, among others). As noted in Essential Principles, free trade unionists also played significant roles in organizing resistance to tyranny, such as in Nazi Germany and occupied France, and in rebuilding democracy after the destruction of World War II. In both the pre- and post-war period, free trade unions within established democracies enhanced living standards and workplace safety but also defended workers’ democratic freedoms. As a result of all of these worker struggles, basic welfare and labor standards have been adopted in developed and developing countries alike. Today, the International Trade Union Confederation, the largest grouping of national trade union federations, has 316 affiliates in 158 countries with a total membership of 170 million workers.

The International Labor Organization

The adoption of improved labor standards can also be attributed in large part to the work of the International Labour Organization (ILO). After World War I, longtime AFL president Samuel Gompers and other labor leaders had pressed US president Woodrow Wilson and other Allied leaders to endorse the creation of such an organization in the belief that "universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice" (ILO Constitution preamble). Wilson and the other negotiators at the Paris Peace Conference agreed that labor peace was central to world peace. They accepted the proposal to establish an international institution to help mitigate the poor working conditions that gave rise to social unrest. The ILO adopted a unique tripartite structure that includes representatives of government, business, and labor, which has allowed the organization to adopt international standards accepted by everyone. Initial conventions of the ILO endorsed the eight-hour day and the 48-hour week as an international norm and called for the abolition of child labor (under age 14), the institution of maternity leave (a minimum of six weeks), and the establishment of a national employment service.

Soviet trade union organization was thus an "anti–trade union" model, the reverse of freedom of association. Rather than protecting workers from exploitation, the official unions drove them to work harder and faster to meet state demands.

The right of free association, although included in the ILO Constitution's preamble, was not part of the organization's established principles until 1944, when it adopted the Declaration of Philadelphia. In 1948, the ILO adopted Convention No. 87 on freedom of association, followed in 1949 by Convention No. 98 on the right to bargain collectively. As of 2013, ILO Conventions 87 and 98 have been adopted by 152 and 163 countries, respectively, making these among the most widely accepted international treaty documents. The two are among eight core ILO conventions, which also include prohibitions on forced labor, child labor, and discrimination in employment. The United States Senate has generally been suspicious of adopting international standards treaties. It has adopted just 14 of 189 total conventions and only two of the eight core conventions (on forced labor in 1991 and on child labor in 1999).

Freedom of Association and Totalitarian States

Soviet-bloc countries, on the other hand, ratified ILO conventions without ever observing them in practice. Communist states claimed that workers had no need for free trade unions because their interests were represented by the Communist Party and its affiliated workers' groups. In fact, workers in Communist countries had no say in who would represent them. Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin likened trade unions to "transmission belts" designed to carry out party directives. Soon after the Russian Revolution in 1917, independent worker organizations were destroyed and official, all-encompassing trade union federations were created to help the state control the workforce. Officials in these organizations were party officials or secret police agents whose chief job was to spy on workers and report on anyone expressing dissent. Workers were often sent to labor camps to perform forced labor simply to fill arrest quotas during ideological campaigns. Soviet officials also oversaw "labor quota" campaigns in which "superworkers" (called Stakhanovites) set impossibly high production standards against which pay scales were set. Workers would have to meet the higher quotas or get less pay. Trade unions also compelled submission by controlling distribution of food, housing, vacations, and rare goods like refrigerators.

Soviet trade unions were thus an "anti–trade union" model, the reverse of freedom of association. Rather than protecting workers from exploitation, the official unions drove them to work harder and faster to meet state demands. In democratic countries, private employers sometimes adopted a similar model called "company unionism," but the Soviet Union’s practices were systematic in scale — an essential part of the totalitarian system. The Soviets imposed their model on satellite states in Eastern Europe and exported it to Communist countries around the world. The largest country still operating an official Communist Party–dominated trade union system is the People's Republic of China (see Country Study).

The "Polish Revolution"

One of the ILO's most significant influences on history was its inspiration of and support for Poland's Solidarity movement, in which millions of workers rose up beginning in 1980 to demand the fulfillment of Conventions 87 and 98 and establishment of the right to form free trade unions. The movement's success — 10 million workers joined within one month of the establishment of Solidarity — marked the first time a free trade union was recognized in a Communist country. The "Polish Revolution" was an epochal event that affected the entire Soviet bloc. The rise of Solidarity repudiated not only the official Communist unions but also the Communist regime itself. In December 1981, the Polish government imposed martial law to destroy Solidarity, but the union survived the crackdown by re-organizing underground. After seven years of peaceful resistance, Polish workers launched national strikes that forced the government to relegalize Solidarity and accept semi-free elections, which were held in June 1989 and ultimately resulted in the fall of the regime. Soon thereafter, the Soviet bloc itself collapsed, allowing a number of new democracies to emerge. The entire process began with small underground publications that explained to workers their rights under ILO conventions (see Country Study of Poland).

Despite the long tradition of democratic trade unionism . . . freedom of association is not secure in many parts of the world.

Employers Strike Back

Despite the long tradition of free trade unionism, the adoption of ILO conventions, and the impact of Poland's Solidarity movement, freedom of association is not secure in many parts of the world. Dictatorships are the most frequent violators of workers' rights, but many democracies, notable among them the United States, also fall short of international standards (see Resources). In general, worker rights have often been curtailed in recent decades in the name of economic freedom amid a revival of classical economic liberalism (see Economic Freedom).

At the international level, the revival of economic liberalism is associated with lower trade barriers and globalization. Multinational employers are increasingly able to abandon countries with high worker rights standards for countries with cheaper labor and little or no respect for workers’ rights. They find these conditions in communist countries like China and Vietnam, which systematically prevent any free trade union organization, but also in authoritarian countries like Egypt and Malaysia, where governments suppress trade unions that do organize. Manufacturers also take advantage of weak labor standards or poor regulatory enforcement in new and developing democracies in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Asia (see Resources for The New York Times news story on Bangladesh worker tragedy).

Business groups and conservative political parties in many democracies have grown increasingly hostile to trade unions, harking back to the early patterns of confrontation between capitalism and labor in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the US, many conservative think tanks argue that trade unions are incompatible with economic freedom, violate individual rights, and are predisposed to clash with pro-business political parties. In the US, United Kingdom, and a number of other democratic countries, laws governing trade unions now partially restrict their rights to organize, represent workers, and mount strike actions. For example, Australia has been admonished by the ILO in recent years for new laws that it determined violate international standards and discourage collective bargaining in favor of individualized contracts between workers and employers. France just adopted a similar law encouraging individual contracts. The United Kingdom adopted a new law in 2015 restricting strikes.

Free market and pro-business economists usually attribute falling unionization rates in developed democracies to a natural economic shift from industrial manufacturing to services and information technology, as well as to increased global competition. This view has been critiqued by labor economists and trade unionists, however, who believe that unfavorable legal and regulatory changes are largely responsible for the trend and that anti-union laws and ineffective protection of freedom of association has brought about a high degree of inequality, both in wealth and in labor-management relations. These advocates point to northern European countries (Scandinavia, Germany, and the Benelux countries) where there are more favorable labor laws and much higher unionization rates. All of these countries achieve high levels of production, productivity, and standards of living.

Freedom of Association: Essential Principles

Essential Principles

"(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 20

"Democracy depends on stable, representative institutions. It depends on
the right to organize. It depends on freedom of association."
Lane Kirkland, President, AFL-CIO, 1988

The exercise of freedom of association by workers, students, and others in society has always been at the heart of the struggle for achieving and defending democracy around the world. Without freedom of association, other freedoms lose their substance. It is impossible to defend individual rights if citizens are unable to organize in groups around common needs and interests. Tom Kahn, a noted civil rights and worker rights activist, wrote, "Freedom of expression without freedom of association is the right to speak freely in the wilderness." of expression without freedom of association is the right to speak freely in the wilderness.

Most political theorists consider freedom of association to be essential to the development of civil society and thus to the strength of democracy. Through his exploration of the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville came to believe that the manifold organizations and associations that made up civic life in every community were  "the mother of science" of any democracy, the social development upon which all other progress depended.

Civil society, by organizing citizens outside of state control, also guards against tyranny. Dictatorships typically view free organizations of citizens, and especially trade unions, as threats and target them for repression, takeover, or closure. Totalitarian states go further: they not only destroy all existing forms of free association but also coerce citizens’ participation in state-controlled institutions and mass-mobilization campaigns in order to exert control over the society.

Freedom of Association and Workers' Rights

Freedom of association covers all manners of organizations created by citizens to protect their individual and common or group interests. But it is most commonly defined as the rights of workers to organize in unions and to bargain collectively over the wages and conditions of their employment. It is these rights that have contributed most profoundly to the expansion of liberty and equality in the world (see History)., by leading the great waves of economic improvement in industrialized countries, have broadened the social foundation for democracy itself.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, explicitly protects both freedom of association in general and the right to form and join trade unions in particular (see also section on Human Rights). Even before the United Nations existed, however, the international community recognized the need to protect workers' interests. Leaders at the 1919 Versailles peace conference, which brought a formal end to World War I, responded positively to the proposal by American labor leader Samuel Gompers and union leaders from Europe to create an International Labour Organization (ILO) as a distinct part of the League of Nations. The ILO’s aim was to create basic standards for the fair treatment of workers that all countries would observe and thus create conditions for social peace — it was the precondition that President Woodrow Wilson (and others) believed would make World War I “the war to end to all wars.” The ILO is the only institution to survive the demise of the League of Nations and later become an agency of the United Nations (see also History).

As the American sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset has noted, unions, by leading the great waves of economic improvement for workers in industrialized countries, have broadened the social foundation for democracy itself (see references in Resources). Indeed, by representing the shared economic and social interests of a wide range of groups in society, they tend to break down racial, ethnic and gender divisions and thus expand opportunities for all citizens. Numerous studies, surveys, and scholarly examinations indicate that in democracies, strong trade unions correlate with the free exercise of democratic rights, an influential civil society, and high levels of both electoral participation and economic equality. Although free trade unions today are at times portrayed as economically and politically anachronistic, trade unions are still essential to democratic societies. Outside of religious institutions, they continue to be the largest, most diverse, and best organized associations.

In addition to expanding the scope and benefits for workers within democracies, tree trade unions and independent worker movements have been essential to achieving democracy in nearly all countries where it has been denied, such as Chile, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa, and many others. Free trade unionists played central roles in organizing resistance to tyranny in Nazi Germany and occupied France as well as in overcoming the great destruction of World War II and rebuilding democracy in postwar Europe. They remain important to the ongoing struggles for freedom from China to Zimbabwe among many others. These and other examples show that despite great risk and repression, workers seek to organize themselves in free trade unions. Once organized, free trade unions strive to overthrow dictatorships, expand democracy, put an end to economic oppression, and distribute wealth more equitably. Not surprisingly, authoritarian governments try to prevent free trade unions from forming and often impose state-dominated unions to control the workforce.

Although free trade unionism and free enterprise are usually portrayed as conflicting ideas, the history of their respective pursuit in democracies, as well as the experience of the ILO, indicate that the two can and do peacefully coexist and can be mutually beneficial. Indeed, free enterprise is unlikely to survive without the economic benefits and social mobility provided to workers by trade unions. By providing a vehicle through which working people can share in the fruits of their labors, unions boost consumption, promote community stability, and support a better quality of life. At the same time, the strictly command economics based on the Soviet model and other collectivist economic experiments once advocated by many left-wing trade union movements have failed. The economies of communist countries have either collapsed or, as in China and Vietnam, workers have been forced to adapt to a hybrid market economy. What is universally true, in both democracies and dictatorships, is that workers have sought to unionize to defend their economic, social, and political interests.


Freedom of Expression: Study Questions

Suggested Study Questions and Activities

Teachers: The following are questions and activities that can be given to your students after they read the materials in each section. The questions are meant to be asked as a review exercise, although some encourage critical thinking as well. The activities can be presented as classroom exercises or as individual homework assignments. Unlike the questions, they tend to require additional research. Some call for students to create mock trials or debates that would engage the entire class. Both the questions and the activities are formatted so that they might be used directly by students, although you may rewrite them as you feel necessary.

Essential Principles


In the 16th and 17th centuries, scientists discovering the principles of the heliocentric universe were banned and repressed by the Vatican. What lessons about free expression did European countries learn from these examples? How did these lessons affect the Enlightenment?

How did John Milton’s arguments in Areapogitica effect the debate around freedom of expression? Were his arguments accepted at the time? Why is the essay still viewed as a touchstone in establishing principles of free expression?

Why did Oliver Wendell Holmes change his mind on his own “clear and present danger” doctrine to write “The Great Dissent” arguing in favor of general freedom of expression?

Why do free speech advocates like Ronald Koven of the World Press Freedom Committee argue against restrictions on free expression? Are they right that any restrictions lead to more restrictions (see "The Meddler's Itch" in Resources)?


Even in totalitarian countries, one finds examples of individuals who challenge official orthodoxy and seek to find ways to express themselves more freely. What methods have been used by writers and scholars in dictatorships to express dissent or non-conformity? Assign students to find examples of such cases. (One article listed in Resources is by Michael Scammel on the topic of Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago, which also describes the significance of such books during the Cold War. Another example in Resources is Vaclav Havel’s “Power of the Powerless” and Liu Xiaobao’s Charter 08 petition.)

Design a scenario based on current events in which free speech is restricted within a democratic country: e.g. Edward Snowden’s releasing or publishing national security information or France’s anti-hate speech statute, among other topics. Discuss different issues around this scenario: Are there legitimate restrictions that might be placed on free speech? What political or judicial traditions, laws, and decisions exist to justify your restriction of speech?  What are recent examples in which there have been restrictions on free speech? Create a debate on one of these issues Organize teams to research this issue in light of previous free speech Supreme Court cases to make arguments on each side (see Cornell University Law School Library’s Supreme Court Collection on free speech issues in Resources).

Google and Yahoo! have agreed to allow their internet search engines to be censored in the People's Republic of China. Bloomberg News has allowed its coverage to be self-censored. Using Resources and other sources, conduct background research on this issue. Answer the question: Should internet sites or news media outlets allow such prior restraint on their products or articles? What reasons do they give to justify such censorship? What have free speech organizations argued to try to convince Google and Yahoo! to refuse such terms for operating in China?



What were the original principles of media freedom in the Netherlands? How did it reflect the different communities in Netherlands at the time? How have violence, recent acts of terrorism, and extremism affected politics in the Netherlands?


Imagine that you are an editor in the Netherlands prior to the Muhammad cartoon controversy in neighboring Denmark and you were given similar cartoons. Organize a class discussion around the topic: Would you publish such cartoons? Why or why not? What if you personally found them offensive? Would you publish them even if you knew they would offend some of the readers? Set up a classroom debate and have different students take turns pretending to be an editor and defending their decisions for or against publication. For the discussion, have students read the Economist’s editorial and special report around the cartoon controversy or Ronald Koven’s “The Meddler’s Itch” (see Resources). Use the activity also to have students explore for additional material on this topic, including materials that explore the issue from an opposing viewpoint.



What role have the free media played recently in Ugandan politics? How effective has it been in providing a balance to the authoritarian power of Uganda's long-time leader, Yoweri Museveni?


President Museveni justifies his long tenure in office and restrictions on freedoms by arguing that they are necessary to prevent a return to dictatorship, such as under Idi Amin. Is this justification legitimate? Develop a position in favor of this argument. How do you justify limits on free speech? Develop a position against this argument that addresses the speech issue.



How has Chinese history affected the Chinese communist regime? Is there a relationship between imperial China and communist China? What countries have experienced similar histories? What factors contributed to the collapse of China’s first republic?

How have authorities in China suppressed freedom of expression at different points in its history? When was there a greater degree of freedom of expression? How did communist China seek to use media and propaganda to strengthen communist rule?

What was the Fifth Modernization advocated by Wei Jingsheng during the Democracy Wall movement? What are other examples of support for freedom of expression and democracy expressed by China’s citizens? How does China’s government successfully  suppress freedom of expression?

How have Hong Kong residents protected their freedoms since the 1997 handover of the British colony to the People’s Republic of China? What freedoms exist in Hong Kong that are not freely exercised in the PRC? How does the PRC try to inhibit freedoms in Hong Kong? Should Hong Kong citizens be able to directly elect their executive?


Using the Resources section and other material, research and organize a class discussion around the demonstrations that took place in Beijing's Tiananmen Square and other Chinese cities in 1989. What prompted the demonstrations? How were they similar to Eastern European democracy movements? How effectively did the Chinese authorities suppress the Tiananmen Square democracy movement? Do the Tiananmen Square demonstrations support or disprove the thesis that democratic rights are universal?

Using the Economist and New York Times links in the Resources section, review recent government actions to restrict freedom of the press in the mainland and on Hong Kong. What are the practices of the Chinese government to restrict freedom of expression? How do these practices compare to “free” countries in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World and Freedom of the Press surveys.

Many people believe that the internet will be a liberating force in the realm of freedom of expression. Read “Busting China’s Bloggers” in the New York Times OpEd pages. Is the author optimistic or pessimistic about the impact of the internet in China?  Examine Freedom House’s recent country reports on China in the 2016 Freedom of the Press and Freedom of the Internet  as well as the Economist’s special report on the internet in China (see Resources). What changes have been seen in the last ten years? How have Chinese authorities sought to control the internet? How effective have they been?

Freedom of Expression: Resources


Essential Principles

The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy, Yale Law School. 

Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute. “Supreme Court Collection: Freedom of Speech.”
     [See links to cases cited in History section.]

Economist magazine. See, e.g.:
     Editorial: “Cartoon Wars: Free Speech Overrides Religious Sensitivities.” February 11, 2006.
     Special Report: Mutual Incomprehension, Mutual Outrage. February 11, 2006.

Havel, Vaclav. The Power of the Powerless M.E. Sharpe: Armonk, NY, 1979. (Etext.)

Koven, Ronald. “The Meddler’s Itch.”Uncaptive Minds, no. 23 (1993). Ronald Koven, In Memoriam.

John Milton. “Areopagitica: A speech for the liberty of unlicensed pr inting to the parliament of England.” (Etext.)

Rushdie, Salman, “How a Fatwah Changed a Writer’s Life,” New Yorker, September 17, 2012.
     See also Vanity Fair: “How Salman Rushdie Survived theSatanic Verses Fatwah.” April 14, 2014.

Scammel, Michael. “The CIA’s Zhivago.”New York Review of Books. July 10, 2014.

Web Site Resources of Free Expression Organizations
     Article XIX (home page).
     Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
     Freedom House (home page). Freedom of the Press Report: 2016. Freedom on the Net Report: 2016.
Human Rights Web (home page and "Summary of United Nations Agreements on Human Rights").
     International Federation of Journalists (link).
     International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX): A web exchange of 80 free speech organizations.
     Reporters Without Borders: 2015 Annual Report.


Ali, Ayaan Hirsi. "Faced with Radical Islam, Europe Is in Danger of Decay," AEI, November 2006.

Bakker, Piet. "Dutch Media." University of Amsterdam: March 2005.

Freedom House: Freedom of the Press Report: 2016: Netherlands.

Open Society Foundations: “Mapping Digital Media” (January 2012).

“Netherlands Passes First Net Neutrality Legislation,” Free Speech Debate web site, July 12, 2012.

“The Dutch Revolution in Journalism,” Blendle.


Economist magazine. Topics Index: Uganda.
The New York Times: Times Topics: Uganda.

Amnesty International. Uganda Human Rights Page.

BBC: “Would Uganda's Museveni Recognise His Former Self?,” May 7, 2011.

Daily Monitor, Uganda’s largest independent newspaper (home page). 

East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP): Uganda Country Profile (link).

Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (Uganda) (link).

Freedom House: Freedom of the Press 2016: Uganda.

Human Rights Watch: 2016 World Report: Uganda.

The New York Review of Books.
     “Murder in Uganda” by Helen Epstein. April 3, 2014.
     “Uganda: The General Challenges the Dictator,” by Helen Epstein, April 24, 2014.


Economist magazine. Topics Index: China.See, e.g.:
     “Everybody Who Loves Mr Xi, Say Yes,” November 16, 2013.
     “China and the Internet: A Giant Cage,” Special Report. April 6, 2013.
     “Inequality in China: To Each, Not According to His Needs.” December 15, 2012.
     “Szeto Wah: Goodbye to A Chinese Patriot.” January 3, 2011.

The New York Times: Times Topics: China. See, e.g.:
     “Xi Xinping’s News Alert: Journalists Must Serve Party. February 22, 2016.
     "Fearing Beijing’s Reach After Disappearances.” January 7, 2016.
     "Crowds Gather in Hong Kong for Anniversary of Tiananmen Crackdown,” June 4, 2014.
“Thousands in Hong Kong Support Wounded Editor.” March 3, 2014.
     “Bloomberg News Is Said To Curb Articles That Might Anger China.” November 9, 2013.
     “Busting China’s Bloggers,” OpEd. October 16, 2013.
     “Jailed Chinese Rights Advocate Speaks Out in Video,” August 8, 2013 (video link).
     “Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader,” October 12, 2012.
     “Tibetan Self-Immolations Rise as China Tightens Grip. March 22, 2012.

Binyan, Liu. “Living in Truth.” The New York Review of Books, July 17, 1997 (on Wei Jingsheng).

Jingsheng, Wei. “The Fifth Modernization” (PDF version). East Asia Institute of Columbia University.

Johnson, Ian. “Worse Than You Ever Imagined,” The New York Review of Books, November 22, 2012
     (A review of five books on the Great Leap Forward and famine of 1958-61.)

Link, Perry. “Party Like It’s 1989.” Foreign Policy. June 4, 2012.

Link, Perry and Nathan, Andrew, Editors. The Tiananmen Papers. Public Affairs: 2001.

Mirsky, Jonathan. “How Reds Smashed Reds,” The New York Review of Books. November 11, 2010.
     (A review of books on the Cultural Revolution.)

Nathan, Andrew. “Authoritarian Impermanence.” Journal of Democracy.Volume 20, Number 3. July 2009.

Selected Web Sites
Charter ’08 (home page).
Charter ’08 Manifesto, translated by P. Link, The New York Review of Books, January 15, 2009.
    Liu Xiaobo, “I Have No Enemies.” Acceptance speech made in absentia for 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.
    Liu Xiaobo: Freedom Now campaign site.

Freedom House
     China Media Bulletin (link).
     Freedom of the Press 2016: China.
Throttling Dissent: China's New Leaders Refine Internet Control: Special Report." 2013.
Speak No Evil: Mass Media Control in Contemporary China," Freedom at Issue Report. 2006.

Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China (home page).
Human Rights Campaign in China (web page).
Human Rights Watch. 2016 World Report: China and China and Tibet Page.
Laogai Museum, Washington, D.C. (link) and Laogai Research Foundation (link).

Recommended Films
“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.” A documentary on “artistic practice and social activism as seen by China's preeminent artist” (Home Page).
“The Blue Kite,” a film by Zhuangzhuang Tian on the Cultural Revolution.
“The Gate of Heavenly Peace.” A documentary on the Tiananmen Square Protests by Frontline (PBS: 1998). See home website.
“The Big Parade,” a 1978 documentary on the annual military demonstration in Tiananmen Square. Directed by Zhang Yimou.

Freedom of Expression: Country Studies — China

China Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status: Not Free. Freedom Ranking: 6.5; Political Rights: 7; Civil Liberties: 6.



China's history has been dominated by repressive royal dynasties or kingdoms, civil wars, military government, and, since 1949, a Communist dictatorship called the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Since 1978, the Communist government opened up the country to the global market and allowed for the existence of private property, investment, trade, and business. As a result of these economic reforms, China dramatically increased its GDP, although the economy remains dominated by state ownership and control. The PRC’s repressive political system remains unchanged. China is governed by the Communist Party, which monopolizes all government, legal, social, and state economic structures. Party officials and members control much of the private economy. In 1989, the government brutally suppressed mass demonstrations organized in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and around the country that called for democracy and freedom. Since then, any organized dissent has been met with force, arrests, expulsions, and various other forms of repression and state intimidation. Freedom House has categorized the People’s Republic of China as “not free” and among the countries with the worst record of human rights violations since its annual Survey of Freedom in the World began in 1973. In the area of freedom of expression, the government exercises one of the most comprehensive and repressive systems of control of media, the internet, and speech in the world. The Freedom of the Press Report has also categorized China as “not free” and one of the world’s worst violators of media freedom since beginning in 1980.

The PRC is the world's fourth-largest country in area (9,596,960 square kilometers) and the most populous, with an estimated 1.375 billion people in 2016. There are 56 recognized ethnic groups, the most numerous and dominant one being the Han (approximately 92 percent of the population). Minorities in Uyghurstan and Tibet are severely repressed and face ethnic genocide. In gross domestic product (GDP), the PRC is the world's second-largest economy. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), nominal GDP totaled $10.35 trillion in 2014 (second to the US’s $17.35 trillion). Although average income has increased significantly in the last decade, distribution of wealth remains highly concentrated. In 2015, the IMF ranked China 82nd in the world in nominal GDP per capita income at $8,280 per year (the U.S. ranked 5th at $55,904 in PPP measurement.) Transparency International ranks China 79th out of 176 countries and territories in its 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index.


The Origins of Imperial China and Achievements of the First Dynasties

Historians date the first dynasty in mainland China, called Xia, to the 21st century BC. The Zhou dynasty (1027 to 221 BC) was the first to claim rule by divine right (the “mandate of heaven”), a doctrine that justified all of China’s successive dynasties over three millennia.

Tiananmen Square

The first to succeed in unifying the six major warlord powers was the Qin dynasty (221–06 BC), which formally begins imperial Chinese history and the use of the term “emperor” for the Chinese leader. Although lasting less than two decades, Qin rulers can claim many of China's early achievements and innovations aimed at consolidating a central state, including the initial building of the Great Wall of China and unifying a system of weights and measures, a currency, a legal code, and the character language. The longer Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220) introduced Confucianism, an ethical system elevating ideals of unity, knowledge, and virtue, as the state religion and the ideological foundation of Chinese imperial rule. Subsequent periods of disunity and warlordism ended with the Sui dynasty (AD 581–617), while the longer-ruling Tang dynasty (618–907) integrated Buddhism and Taoism with Confucianism and traditional folk religion.

The Golden Age, Foreign Invasions, and Final Dynasties

The Song dynasty introduced China's Golden Age, but China then experienced two foreign invasions, one from Manchuria (the Jurchen Jin dynasty) and the second by the Mongols (the Yuan dynasty). The Mongols’ rule was overthrown in 1368 by a rebel army led by the peasant Zhu Yuanzhang. Zhu's victory marked the start of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The Ming dynasty adopted neo-Confucianism, an offshoot of Confucianism characterized by scholasticism, xenophobia, and a rigid belief in hierarchy. At the same time, the Ming dynasty broke up feudal estates, encouraged private land ownership, and banned slavery. Small agricultural communities became the dominant producer of food. Ming emperors also developed new industries (such as porcelain and textiles) and finalized the completion of the Great Wall of China. The Ming dynasty ended with another Manchurian invasion from the north, which began the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). The Manchus imposed a heavy-handed foreign administration. Only Manchus could serve in the army and administration. Han identity was repressed. Under penalty of death, the Qing enforced the Manchu hairstyle (known for the shaving of hair bald in front with the rest tied in a long ponytail) and dress code (considered today traditional Chinese clothing). But in other ways, the Manchu dynasty ruled according to previous Chinese imperial principles and adopted hierarchical neo-Confucian norms.

The End of Imperial Rule and the Short-lived Republic

In the 19th century, European powers used their superior technology in armaments to open China’s trade with the West, especially for opium. The Chinese defeat by Great Britain in the First Opium War (1839–42) forced the Qing to grant the British special trade privileges and to begin the lease of Hong Kong. A peasant revolt called the Taiping Rebellion erupted against the Qing dynasty and its capitulation to foreign rule. The rebellion gained control of a substantial portion of southern territories until being put down with the assistance of British and French forces. But it set a new precedent: 30 million lives were lost due to armed conflict, revolutionary violence, and famine.

Sun Yat-sen

The stage for the end of imperial rule was set in 1898, when the Empress Dowager Cixi seized effective control of the state and encouraged the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Its suppression by Britain and the US weakened imperial rule further. By the late 1890s, a national movement had arisen inspired by the revolutionary ideas and writings of Sun Yat-sen. His Three Principles ideology of nationalism, democracy, and people’s welfare had gained a widespread following. An uprising he sparked in a regional capital spread throughout the country. Delegates from provisional assemblies across China established a new government in Nanjing on January 1, 1912, inaugurating the Republic of China. Sun Yat-sen was named president. When the head of the imperial army, Yuan Shikai, negotiated the abdication of the six-year-old Emperor Puyi, it put an end to 3000 years of imperial rule. To achieve a united government and avoid civil war, Sun Yat-sen ceded the presidency to Yuan Shikai. This fateful move led to the collapse of republican government. Shikai abolished the nascent national assembly elected in 1913 — mainland China's first and only free election — and moved the capital back to imperial Beijing. When he attempted to create a new dynasty, he was forced from power in 1915. Central administration fell apart, igniting a period of division among various warlords and armed factions that competed for territory.

The United Fronts, the Long March, Japanese Invasion, and Civil War

Sun Yat-sen gained effective control of the south and, still hoping to reunify China, he established a First United Front in 1921 that joined his Nationalist (Kuomintang) Party with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). After his death in 1925, Sun Yat-sen was succeeded as head of the Kuomintang by General Chiang Kai-shek, who set about forming a central government in Nanjing in 1927. But communist-inspired attempts on his life prompted General Chiang to renounce the United Front. The Kuomintang defeated a number of peasant revolts organized by communist guerrilla leader Mao Zedong. In 1934, facing defeat, Mao ordered the Long March, a 3,000 mile retreat of the communists to escape the Nationalist army. A majority of the rebels died along the way, but the Long March is credited with saving the Communists from total defeat. The Japanese invasion of Manchuria forced Chiang to divert his army from its drive against the Communist forces. As China faced the prospect of a full Japanese invasion, two generals kidnapped Chiang to force him to agree to a Second United Front with the CCP to fight the Sino-Japanese War (1937–45). The Nationalist-Communist alliance deteriorated as early as 1940 but it allowed the CCP forces to increase their strength. After the final defeat of Japan, a civil war between the two sides broke out in 1947. 

By 1949, the People's Liberation Army gained control on the mainland. Nationalist forces retreated to the island of Taiwan. They declared their government to be the legal continuation of the Republic of China (ROC). The Communists established the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949 to supplant the ROC on the mainland. Armed hostilities ended in 1950, but technically the PRC remains at war with the Republic, which it considers part of a single China. Following a period of dictatorship under the leadership of Chiang Kai Shek (who died in 1975), Taiwan emerged as a stable multiparty democracy with a successful free-market economy. The ROC constitution still claims to be the legitimate government of all China, but most leaders refer to the country as Taiwan. The Democratic Progressive Party recently won both presidential and parliamentary elections in January 2016. It considers Taiwan as its own independent nation-state. deal with the fact that China was largely a peasant country, Mao introduced a distinct variant of communism, a dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasants.

The People's Republic of China

Since being formed in 1949, the People's Republic of China has been ruled by a totalitarian government.

Its constitution, modeled on the Soviet Union, establishes the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as the supreme political authority within the state. Mao Zedong, as chairman of the CCP and leader of the People's Liberation Army, quickly seized full political powers of the PRC and had himself appointed chairman, later called president, of the government. He also became head of the Central Military Commission. To deal with the fact that China was largely a peasant country, Mao introduced a distinct variant of communism called “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism” that instituted the “dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasants.” The totalitarian system was in fact the same as that established by Lenin in the Soviet Union. It was based on the principle of “democratic centralism,” meaning centralizing power in the leadership of the revolutionary vanguard communist party.

The Chinese Communist Party established its full control through systematic repression of the population. There were various ideological campaigns (having names like the “The Three Antis Campaign”) to eradicate warlords, landlords, property owners, Nationalists, and any open critics of the CCP. Hundreds of thousands were rounded up at a time and either executed or put in a new penal and labor camp system known as laogai. Political opponents were often taken to high buildings and given the choice to either jump off or be pushed. After Mao’s “Hundred Flowers” movement in 1956 unexpectedly grew into a mass reaction expressing opposition to the CCP’s policies, he ordered a new Anti-Rightist Campaign in which millions of people whose criticism he had solicited were dismissed from their jobs, imprisoned, or executed. In 1958, impatient at the pace of socialist advancement, Mao undertook a new campaign, the Great Leap Forward (1958-63) to fully collectivize agriculture and industry. Forced collectivization proved disastrous. Historians differ on the level of the catastrophe, but demographic experts put the number of people who died from collectivization and the resulting famine at up to 60 million people.

Poster promoting the Great Leap Forward.

The Cultural Revolution

The Great Leap Forward, which the regime publicly blamed on natural disasters, resulted in a curtailing of Mao Zedong's powers. He was replaced as chairman of the PRC by Liu Shaoqi and as general secretary of the party by Deng Xiaoping. Mao responded with the Cultural Revolution. In May 1966, he delivered a speech calling for the eradication of the “Four Olds” (old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas) in religion, education, culture, and also within Communist institutions themselves. The campaign incited a new revolutionary fervor that let Mao get rid of his competitors. Millions of people were expelled from government institutions and sent to prison or forced to work on farm collectives. Red Guards, made up of Mao loyalists (Maoists) and radical student paramilitary groups, rampaged through the cities of China to destroy any public expression of “the olds.” The Red Guards carried out kangaroo trials and hangings and led forced marches of offenders to prisons and work collectives. Liu Shaoqi was arrested and Deng Xiaoping was sent to a work collective. Maoists were restored within the state apparatus. The Cultural Revolution lasted until 1976, shortly after Mao's death, and the arrest of the so-called Gang of Four (led by Jiang Qing, Mao's wife), who in official historiography are blamed for the “excesses” of this period.

The Period of Economic Reforms

Deng Xiaoping was politically rehabilitated by his longtime mentor, Zhou Enlai, who served as premier from the 1950s and survived as Mao’s “No. 2” through the Cultural Revolution. Following the deaths of both Zhou and Mao in 1976, Deng regained key posts in the party and maneuvered to gain full control of state policy. In 1978, he introduced a new economic policy called the “Four Modernizations,” a term first introduced by Zhou in 1963 to reform four key areas — agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology. What these new policies introduced was a hybrid capitalist-Communist economy in which state-run conglomerates and private property co-exist and foreign investment is strongly encouraged. Since reforms were adopted, China’s economy has boomed. Although its growth has moderated in recent years, China is predicted to surpass the US as the world’s largest economy by 2030. To achieve such growth, the government moved 250 million peasants to newly constructed cities where industrialization and manufacturing were based, the largest social engineering project in history.

In the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Deng’s policies became a model for other communist regimes like Vietnam (see Country Study). Part of China's “economic miracle” was based on its artificially low labor costs due to the suppression of worker rights. Indeed, China’s growth has diminished partly because labor unrest over the last decade has driven wages higher, causing foreign investors to move to ever cheaper countries (see Country Study in Freedom of Association). Although China boasts a growing middle class, as of 2012, per capita income was still just one-fifth to one-ninth that of the European. Wealth is highly concentrated within the communist elite. The Economist reports that China is the world’s most unequal society in income distribution, with the top tenth percentile receiving 57 percent of income.

The People Protest: From the Democracy Wall to Charter ‘08

While there was a brief loosening of censorship accompanying the Four Modernizations, Deng Xiaoping quickly made clear that economic reforms did not mean political change. One initiative was the Democracy Wall in 1978, a long street wall in Beijing where activists put up large character banners with news and opinion articles. As activists began to call for more human rights, the postings were quickly taken down and what was called “the Beijing Spring” was repressed. The most famous banner was titled “The Fifth Modernization,” by Wei Jinsheng, an electrician who advocated that democracy was an indispensable “fifth modernization” in politics. Along with many others, Wei was arrested and spent a total of eighteen years in prison over the next two decades. He was forcibly exiled in 1997 (see Resources for Liu Binyan’s article “Living in Truth,” a review of Wei Jingsheng’s memoirs).

In 1989, the year of democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe, a more serious challenge to Communist Party rule emerged when student protests in Tiananmen Square broke out to demand liberal reforms. After several weeks of growing demonstrations in Beijing and cities throughout the country, Deng Xiaoping ordered the army and police to suppress the democracy movement with force. Thousands were killed or maimed. Tens of thousands were imprisoned and many more expelled from universities and other state institutions or forced into exile. Since then, the state has used all the tools of a police state to prevent any recurrence of the Tiananmen Square protests. Many people were arrested to prevent the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown (see Resources).

Nevertheless, a dissident movement has emerged in China similar to movements that arose in the Soviet bloc. In 2008, Liu Xiaobo along with other leading dissidents launched Charter ’08, a political manifesto in favor of democratic change modeled on the Charter 77 movement in Czechoslovakia. Charter ’08 gained 1,300 signatures before it was banned by government censors from the internet. Its leaders and many of its signers were arrested. Liu Xiaobo, previously imprisoned for participating in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, was sentenced to 11 years in forced labor for “conspiracy to subvert the state.” In 2010, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In retaliation for their contacts with foreign journalists, his wife remains under house arrest and her mother was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment on trumped-up fraud charges. More recently, another initiative called the New Citizens’ Movement has been similarly repressed (see Country Study in Freedom of Association and New York Times article in Resources).

Mao Zedong's image continues to adorn many buildings in today’s China.

Communist Dictatorship Unchanged

The PRC has gone through three full political transfers of power since Deng Xiaoping’s retirement from political life in 1992. None of these changes in top personnel resulted in political liberalization. As of 2012, Xi Jinping is the supreme leader. Like his predecessors, he combines the posts of chairman of the Communist Party of China, state president (chairman of the state council), and head of the Central Military Commission. Overall, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with an estimated 80 million members, remains in total control of politics, the state, and the economy. The People’s Congress, the formal legislature, is made up of Communist Party functionaries and appointed regional representatives, all of whom are selected by the central leadership. Within China’s “democratic centralist” system, the power of Xi Jinping is only contested by factions within the Politburo loyal to previous leaders (former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao) or that have built up local power bases. Since Xi Jinping came to power, he has cemented his control through an “anti-corruption” campaign that has resulted in the removal of 400,000 party officials, many of whom have been sentenced to prison, suspension of civil liberties, and fines. The purge included several top figures from the party such as Bo Xilai, the party leader in Chongqing. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in September 2013 on corruption charges.

Suppression of Autonomous Regions: Tibet and Uyghurstan

The PRC continues to suppress two autonomous regions: Tibet and Uyghurstan, both ethnically distinct regions that had maintained autonomy under much of Chinese imperial rule.

Tibet established its independence in 1913. Having a devoutly Buddhist society, Tibet was governed by its religious leader, the Dalai Lama. In 1951, the People’s Revolutionary Army invaded Tibet and it was made an Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China in 1959. Martial law was imposed and the Dalai Lama and many of his followers fled to exile in India. Since then, Chinese authorities have brutally repressed the Tibet’s unique Buddhist culture and society. The Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, has advocated negotiations with the Chinese government for a return to autonomy. The Chinese authorities agreed to talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives as a condition for being awarded the 2008 Olympics, but these were suspended. No progress was made toward a negotiated solution. Instead, Chinese authorities stepped up a policy of importing Han Chinese to the territory and using modernization projects to destroy venerated historical and cultural sites. Tibetans continue to resist Chinese rule. In one protest, 300 Tibetan monks sought to draw world attention to the destruction of Tibetan culture through a desperate campaign of public self-immolations in Tibet’s capital, Llasa.

Uyghurstan, a region in northeast China, is officially called the Autonomous Xinjiang Uyghur Region. Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group that adheres to Islam, have resisted Chinese control for decades only to suffer similar repression as in Tibet. Tensions between Uyghur and Han communities have risen following years of heavy Han immigration into the region and discrimination against Uyghurs by officials. After protests in 2009 against the displacement of Uyghur workers by Han immigrants, one thousand Uyghurs were arrested and dozens sentenced to long prison terms, some to the death penalty. Since then, the autonomous region has been under heavy security. Activities aimed at preserving Uyghur culture and language has been repressed.

Hong Kong: A Threatened Haven of Freedom

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to China in 1997 after the end of a ninety-nine year lease granted under the Qing dynasty. It is now governed under a formal agreement made with the United Kingdom guaranteeing respect for Hong Kong's self-governance and separate system of laws — a policy the PRC calls “one country, two systems.” During negotiations between Britain and China, a strong civic and political movement arose in Hong Kong to enhance and protect democratic freedoms. Following the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, teacher union leader Szeto Wah helped create the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which served as a focal point for Hong Kong’s civil society to turn back anti-democratic initiatives. In 2003, 500,000 citizens demonstrated against a proposed anti-subversion law that was withdrawn as a result of the protest. In 2012, a new “national education” curriculum proposed for Hong Kong schools based on Chinese Communist Party historiography was also withdrawn as a result of similar protests. Annually on June 4, the Hong Kong Alliance organizes a commemoration of the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. On the 25th anniversary in 2014, more than one hundred thousand people gathered in a candlelight vigil in defiance of threats by Chinese authorities. Soon afterwards, the Occupy Central with Love and Peace movement organized an informal public referendum on whether China’s chief executive should be chosen through direct election and opening more seats of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to direct vote. The government issued a memorandum rejecting such democratic changes and reiterating its final control over the affairs of the territory, sparking a months-long protest movement and occupation of central Hong Kong. The protests dissipated under police pressure but Hong Kong democracy leaders vow to continue their campaign for direct elections. For some, the suppression of the Umbrella Revolution and efforts to democratize the Legislative Council have led to new efforts demanding independence of Hong Kong.

Freedom of Expression

The suppression of free expression in China today reflects its nearly 3000-year history of imperial rule and the increasing rigidity of imperial state doctrines. A brief period of greater freedom during and after the period of the Republic of China did not take hold within a conflict-ridden country. Today, the People’s Republic of China exercises a comprehensive and repressive system of control over the media, the internet, and speech. All broadcast and print media as well as book publication and distribution are controlled by the state and the Communist Party of China. Internet and wireless communication has encouraged some free speech through blogs and social media, but overall the internet and digital forms of expression are tightly restricted by a large state apparatus monitoring and controlling communication and access to information.

Imperial China and the Republic

From the outset of its written history, emperors and territorial warlords imposed rigid systems of control over expression that rewarded obedience and repressed dissent. Under succeeding Confucian and neo-Confucian doctrines that stressed loyalty and submission; free thought and inquiry were discouraged. In the ninth and 10th centuries AD, Chinese emperors established a formal list of censored books as soon as book printing in multiple copies began. Unlike in Europe, where a religious Reformation fostered intellectual differences, in China all religious tendencies (Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and folk religion) were absorbed into a single state system. Many Chinese intellectuals spoke out, achieved scientific discovery, and developed new means of expression, but none of China’s intellectual or scientific achievements succeeded in superseding the longer traditions of repressive government.

In the late imperial period, there arose greater intellectual and political ferment, especially among exiles living in Japan, Southeast Asia, and the United States. Newspapers produced in these communities were circulated within China. Many émigrés were influenced by Western thought, including Sun Yat-sen, who studied in British-run schools in Honolulu and Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, he developed and gained initial adherents to his “Three Principles” ideology of nationalism, democracy, and people's welfare and he was able to inspire political followers within China. The Republic of China sparked greater intellectual vibrancy and diversity but it failed to take deep hold. Democratic hopes were supplanted by Chiang Kai-shek’s authoritarian Kuomintang and then by Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Under the People's Republic of China, all media quickly became controlled by the state. Censorship was introduced and various political campaigns enforced ideological uniformity.

The People's Republic of China

When it seized power of the mainland in 1949, the CCP ended all forms of intellectual freedom and imposed a single ideology, communism, governing all aspects of life. The civil society that was given a brief life during the republican period was destroyed. Under the People's Republic of China, all media quickly became controlled by the state. Censorship was introduced almost immediately and various ideological campaigns enforced political uniformity. Any deviation from the communist line was repressed. Social mobilization further discouraged dissent. Beginning in the mid-1960s, the Cultural Revolution reinforced the penalties for straying from established orthodoxy through an ongoing and terrifying ideological campaign (see above). Although Deng Xiaoping’s reforms and privatization marked an economic departure from Communist orthodoxy, political control was not relaxed. Deng’s regime quickly clamped down on free expression initiatives, such as the Democracy Wall movement, or forcibly suppressed political protest movements, such as the Tiananmen Square demonstrations (see above). Today, freedom of expression remains fully suppressed by state controls.

Media Control and Censorship

The period of economic reforms brought about an increase in broadcast and print media. Today in the People’s Republic of China, there are more than 2,000 newspapers, 7,000 magazines and journals, 1,000 radio stations, and 3,700 television stations. However, the proliferation of broadcast and print media and their commercialization has not created an independent media. The increase of media has taken place mostly within the framework of state ownership or state-sponsored ownership. By law, any “private” media must have majority state or communist party ownership, meaning “private” does not mean independent. The only national television broadcaster is the state-run China Central Television (CCTV); all local stations are required to broadcast its news shows exclusively. All major cities have one state-owned local broadcaster and at least one state-owned newspaper. [A]ll media are still strictly supervised by the state's enormous propaganda and censorship apparatus.

All media are strictly supervised by the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department, which has corresponding branches at all levels of administration. Nearly all significant appointments of editors, broadcasters, and senior journalists at media outlets remain controlled by the party's nomenklatura, or patronage, system. Once appointed, editors and journalists must attend “ideology reinforcement conferences,” where they are directed in the content they should and should not include. The realm of taboo topics is enormous, among them official history, challenges to the political monopoly of the CCP, negative portrayals of CCP leaders, the existence of censorship itself, forced sterilizations required by the previous one-child policy, the Tiananmen Square uprising and massacre, Tibet, Uyghurstan, and Hong Kong, dissidents or banned movements like Falun Gong, among many, many other topics.

All media comply with “propaganda circulars,” often issued multiple times a day by the Central Propaganda Department and its local branches. These provide specific direction on positive propaganda that should be included and information that must be excluded from the news. Editors and journalists who dare to report on local corruption are often severely punished and face dismissal, bans, or arrest. Some are prosecuted under the Protection of National Secrets Law, which by definition means that the alleged violation of the law is never known. (See Freedom House links in Resources for further description of the censorship apparatus.)

China and the Internet

The internet has greatly expanded with an estimated 600 million internet subscribers and 500 million out of more than 1 billion mobile devices capable of accessing the internet. However, the internet is highly monitored by the censorship apparatus and many additional boundaries are set for its use. Restrictions strictly control what sites are allowed to be accessed as well as what may be posted.

The state’s “Great Firewall” restricts access to foreign web sites reporting news, places strict filters on topics (such as the Arab Spring, the “color revolutions” that overthrew dictatorships, and highly specific topics related to politics); specific web sites (for example Freedom House, other human rights organizations, Wikipedia, among many thousands of others); news services (the New York Times and Bloomberg News have been blocked for their coverage of the wealth accumulation among the Chinese elite, while many others are also blocked); and foreign social media and microblogging sites (such as You Tube, Facebook, and Twitter). In this latter category, China created parallel companies and sites like Sina Weibo for microblogging and Tencent’s WeChat for instant messaging, where all posts are monitored. In general, any websites considered by authorities to be politically or socially dangerous are inaccessible to Chinese users. As many as 500,000 people work in the Chinese administration to actively monitor website and blogging traffic and post pro-regime comments in discussions. Foreign search engine companies like Google and Yahoo! actively cooperate with internet censors by creating filters.

Many web users get around formal restrictions to successfully disseminate information and express dissenting views on the internet. The large size of this independently minded web community is indicated by mass spontaneous campaigns around public disasters. By posting unofficial pictures and accounts before official censors have a chance to control reporting, microbloggers, often with millions of followers, have forced authorities to change news coverage of events. Such campaigns have even affected public policy, forcing changes to development plans that endanger the environment among other policies. (On internet controls, see the special report in Economist and articles in the New York Times in Resources.)

Current Issues

The current Chinese leader, President Xi Jinping, continues to carry out policies aimed at consolidating his power. The anti-corruption campaign reached a new level in 2015-16 both in scale and scope. In 2015 alone, it was reported that a total of 400,000 officials had been dismissed in the campaign, many of them arrested and charged with criminal offenses for corruption. In the highest profile case to date, Zhou Yongkang, the former top security official and a former member of the Politburo, was sentenced to life imprisonment in June for abuse of power and taking bribes related to oil investment. Xi’s consolidation of power is reflected in media coverage indicating a new cult of personality not seen since the rule of Deng Xiaoping. As reported in The New York Times, state media accounts of his most recent public appearances portray Xi “as a demigod.” He himself stated on a public tour that the media “exists to serve the Communist Party and must pledge fealty to Mr. Xi.”

The regime has maintained a high level of repression for any dissent and has further cracked down on free expression. In January 2013, journalists at the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly went on strike after censorship officials changed a New Year’s editorial urging greater adherence to China’s constitution, a position being advocated by the New Citizens’ Movement. The journalists’ protest gained online support and anti- censorship street demonstrations were organized by students, intellectuals, and artists. The incident at the Southern Weekly was repeated at several other newspapers. These online and public protests, however, were quickly tamped down. In response, later in 2013, officials used the incident to issue stricter guidelines on media coverage, restricting further the topics that could be covered by journalists such as antigovernment protests, torture, certain cases of official corruption, and fatal industrial accidents. According to Freedom House, the guidelines tightened controls on use of foreign sources or microblogs and required Chinese journalists “to pass a new ideological exam in order to receive their press cards.” The regime has maintained a high level of repression for any dissent and has further cracked down on free expression. . . .

Also starting in 2013, the Chinese authorities stepped up its efforts against “cybercrime” — defined as posting pro-democracy opinions or information on taboo topics — by arresting hundreds, if not thousands, of bloggers, for “rumor mongering,” “inciting public disorder,” or trumped up criminal charges like engaging in prostitution (see link to “Busting China’s Bloggers“ in Resources). In addition, a court ruling broadly expanded prosecutors’ power to initiate criminal defamation charges against bloggers for content deemed false, defamatory, or threatening to public interest if that information is “widely” disseminated (viewed by more than 5,000 users or reposted more than 500 times).

These controls and crackdowns on expression have continued according to the 2016 Freedom in the World  and Freedom of the Press country reports. The authorities have also increased repression of “mainstream” journalists at state-controlled media. (The Committee to Protect Journalists reported 44 cases of state-registered journalists imprisoned on various charges, such as divulging state secrets or acts of defamation at the end of 2014; the number increased in 2015-16.) In addition, the Chinese authorities have stepped up an active campaign to influence social media — it was reported recently that government “trollers” post 488 million items a day.

Several activists connected with the New Citizens Movement — a network of individuals seeking adherence within the legal system to human rights guarantees in the Constitution — were sentenced. One leading member, Liu Jiacai from Hubei province, was sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment for “inciting subversion of state power” in articles posted online and in public gatherings of fellow activists. Relatedly, in July 2015, there was an “unprecedented crackdown” on civil rights lawyers. Within one 48-hour period two hundred lawyers and other professionals from law firms and public-interest groups known to defend civil and human rights activists were placed under detention or house arrest; a number simply “disappeared.” In an act reflecting the growing trend of Chinese police authorities acting outside state borders, the son of one lawyer was seized while traveling in Myanmar and forcibly returned to house arrest in China.

There continued to be a high focus on activists from Uyghurstan. In one case, a Uyghur scholar, Ilham Tohti, was arrested in January 2014, together with several of his students. He had recently begun the website Uyghur Online “dedicated to improving interethnic understanding.” In September, Tohti was sentenced to life in prison on charges of separatism. The students remained in custody in undisclosed locations. The authorities also tried to affect reporting abroad by the American-Uyghur citizen Shohret Hoshur, who works for the US-based Radio Free China. They sentenced one of his brothers living in Urumqi to 5 years’ imprisonment in 2014 and arrested his two other brothers in 2015. Hoshur has not stopped his reporting.

As noted above, Hong Kong retains greater freedom of expression. However, its media are under constant and increasing pressure of the Chinese authorities. In January 2014, for example, Kevin Lau Chun-to, a popular editor-in-chief of one of Hong Kong’s most respected independent newspapers, Ming Pao, was suddenly ousted by the newspaper’s ownership group based on the Chinese mainland. In March 2014, the former editor was violently attacked in an attempted assassination. Thousands of people immediately went to the streets in protest. (In a recorded message from his hospital bed, Chun-to told demonstrators, “Violence is meant to intimidate. If we are frightened into submission, we lose our freedom.”) More recently, the Chinese authorities appeared to step up the pressure. The editor-in-chief and four other employees of the publisher Mighty Current Media, which specializes in books on current Chinese leaders, disappeared and were presumed to be abducted from Hong Kong and taken to Beijing. The chief editor, Lee Bo, was said to send a fax to his wife stating that he had gone “voluntarily” to aid Beijing police in a corruption investigation. Another employee recorded a video “admitting” to criminal offenses. The case indicates again the Chinese government’s increasing willingness to violate state boundaries in its campaign of repression and intimidation.

Freedom of Expression: Country Studies - Uganda

 Uganda Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status: Not Free. Freedom Ranking: 5.5; Political Rights: 6; Civil Liberties: 5. 

Note: From 2003 to 2014, Uganda’s overall freedom ranking in the Survey of Freedom in the World was between 4.5 and 5 in Freedom House’s scale (with 1 being most free and 7, being least free). In this period, this rating placed it in the category of a “partly free” country. Uganda’s score dropped to 5.5 and its status was downgraded to “not free” in the 2015 Freedom in the World Report due to a deterioration in political rights as well as civil liberties, including increased violations of individual rights and freedom of expression. However, Uganda’s status in Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press 2016 report remained “partly free” given its still significant independent media. For purposes of Democracy Web’s Comparative Studies in Freedom, Uganda serves as a “partly free” country in the category of Freedom of Expression.



Uganda gained independence in 1962 after 75 years of Britain’s direct colonial rule. At first an electoral democracy, Uganda has had dictatorial governments since 1966, the worst period being the murderous reign of Idi Amin from 1971–76. A milder dictatorship took hold in 1986 when Yoweri Museveni declared himself president. He ended the worst forms of repression, instituted a semi-democratic system of elections, and restored growth to the economy. After thirty years in power, Museveni refuses to step down and won a seventh term in February 2016 in a highly dubious election process. While there is an active political opposition, Museveni’s rule has become increasingly repressive and it is now considered a “not free” country by Freedom House. Uganda’s generally vibrant and independent media struggles to survive. Freedom House ranks Uganda “partly free” in its Freedom of the Media Report for 2016. Reporters Without Borders ranks Uganda 97th out of 180 countries in its 2015 index. 

Uganda lies on the Lake Victoria basin in Central Africa and is located between the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the West and Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda to the east. Its northern border is South Sudan after gaining independence in 2011. Uganda has a multiethnic population of approximately 35 million, 38th largest in the world. Despite its size, it ranks among the poorer countries: 102nd in nominal GDP at $27.6 billion in total output and, even worse, 172nd in nominal per capita GDP for 2015 at $625 per annum, both figures according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Transparency International ranks Uganda 139th out of 167 countries and territories in its 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index. 


Origins and the Emergence of Multi-ethnic Governance 

Uganda was populated by hunting and gathering groups as early as 30,000–40,000 BC. Different groups speaking Bantu, one of the dominant sub-Saharan African-language families, began residing in the area in the fourth century BC and spread their practices of herding and agriculture. Cushitic-, Nilotic-, and Luo-speaking tribes, mostly pastoralists, migrated to the area from the west and north of Africa at the end of the first millennium. Some pastoralists moved south to form the Hima and Tutsi ethnic communities of northern Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda. The Nilotic speakers who stayed in Uganda formed two major states, Bunyoro and Baganda, and several minor ones, which were all ruled through a royal clan system in which clan elders elected the leaders (kabakas). Buganda was the more successful, quadrupling its territorial control and surpassing Bunyoro as the dominant state in the region. 

State and Religious Rivalry Ends in British Rule 

Uganda thus developed its own internal system of rival states. When the British explorers John Speke and Henry Stanley arrived in the mid-19th century, they converted Buganda's kabaka, Mutesa I, to Christianity. His conversion sparked a competition between British Protestant, German Protestant, French Catholic, and Islamic missionaries in the region. Buganda's Protestant and Catholic adherents combined to defeat the initially successful Islamic converts, but then battled between themselves. The Protestants were victorious. Backed by the military force of Buganda, the British set out to conquer the Bunyoro and other areas in the region. In 1888, the British East Africa Company was granted full control of East Africa (the Lake Victoria region); in 1894, Buganda became a British protectorate.