Major new global free expression index sees UK ranking stumble across academic, digital and media freedom

A major new global ranking index tracking the state of free expression published today (Wednesday, 25 January) by Index on Censorship sees the UK ranked as only “partially open” in every key area measured.

In the overall rankings, the UK fell below countries including Australia, Israel, Costa Rica, Chile, Jamaica and Japan. European neighbours such as Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Denmark also all rank higher than the UK.

The Index Index, developed by Index on Censorship and experts in machine learning and journalism at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), uses innovative machine learning techniques to map the free expression landscape across the globe, giving a country-by-country view of the state of free expression across academic, digital and media/press freedoms.

Key findings include:

  • The countries with the highest ranking (“open”) on the overall Index are clustered around western Europe and Australasia – Australia, Austria, Belgium, Costa Rica, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland.

  • The UK and USA join countries such as Botswana, Czechia, Greece, Moldova, Panama, Romania, South Africa and Tunisia ranked as “partially open”.

  • The poorest performing countries across all metrics, ranked as “closed”, are Bahrain, Belarus, Burma/Myanmar, China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini, Laos, Nicaragua, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

  • Countries such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates performed poorly in the Index Index but are embedded in key international mechanisms including G20 and the UN Security Council.

Ruth Anderson, Index on Censorship CEO, said:

“The launch of the new Index Index is a landmark moment in how we track freedom of expression in key areas across the world. Index on Censorship and the team at Liverpool John Moores University have developed a rankings system that provides a unique insight into the freedom of expression landscape in every country for which data is available.

“The findings of the pilot project are illuminating, surprising and concerning in equal measure. The United Kingdom ranking may well raise some eyebrows, though is not entirely unexpected. Index on Censorship’s recent work on issues as diverse as Chinese Communist Party influence in the art world through to the chilling effect of the UK Government’s Online Safety Bill all point to backward steps for a country that has long viewed itself as a bastion of freedom of expression.

“On a global scale, the Index Index shines a light once again on those countries such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates with considerable influence on international bodies and mechanisms – but with barely any protections for freedom of expression across the digital, academic and media spheres.”

Nik Williams, Index on Censorship policy and campaigns officer, said:

“With global threats to free expression growing, developing an accurate country-by-country view of threats to academic, digital and media freedom is the first necessary step towards identifying what needs to change. With gaps in current data sets, it is hoped that future ‘Index Index’ rankings will have further country-level data that can be verified and shared with partners and policy-makers.

“As the ‘Index Index’ grows and develops beyond this pilot year, it will not only map threats to free expression but also where we need to focus our efforts to ensure that academics, artists, writers, journalists, campaigners and civil society do not suffer in silence.”

Steve Harrison, LJMU senior lecturer in journalism, said: 

“Journalists need credible and authoritative sources of information to counter the glut of dis-information and downright untruths which we’re being bombarded with these days. The Index Index is one such source, and LJMU is proud to have played our part in developing it.

“We hope it becomes a useful tool for journalists investigating censorship, as well as a learning resource for students. Journalism has been defined as providing information someone, somewhere wants suppressed – the Index Index goes some way to living up to that definition.”

Who is 2022’s Tyrant of the Year?

At the end of every year, Index on Censorship launches a campaign to focus attention on human rights defenders, dissidents, artists and journalists who have been in the news headlines because their freedom of expression has been suppressed during the past twelve months. As well as this we focus on the authoritarian leaders who have been silencing their opponents.

Last year, we asked for your help in identifying 2021’s Tyrant of the Year and you responded in your thousands. The 2021 winner, way ahead of a crowded field, was Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, followed by China’s Xi Jinping and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad .

The polls are now open for the title of 2022 Tyrant of the Year and we are focusing on 12 leaders from around the globe who have done more during the past 12 months than other despots to win this dubious accolade.

Click on those in our rogues’ gallery below to find out why the Index on Censorship team believe each one should be named Tyrant of the Year and then click on the form at the bottom of those pages to cast your vote. The closing date is Monday 9 January 2023.





Tyrant of the year 2022: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo may not be an obvious choice for our 2022 ‘Tyrant of the Year’, but he certainly wins awards for many aspects of his dictatorial reign. Gaining power before three of his fellow inductees on this list were even born, he’s now entered his sixth decade as the leader of Equatorial Guinea and is currently the longest serving president in the world.

“Anybody looking at Obiang’s 95% share of the recent national elections vote may think he’s an electoral powerhouse. However, with little political opposition and a heavily controlled press, it’s far from a free democratic choice for most,” says Francis Clarke, editorial assistant at Index on Censorship. 

While elections are regular, the one held in November 2022 ‘returned’ Obiang to his sixth term in office. While opposition is nominally allowed alongside a multi-party system, he has near total control of the West African nation. Before the 2017 legislative election, it was reported that opposition party supporters were arrested, polling stations closed earlier than advertised and people were limited from reaching distant polling stations.

In September, a human rights campaigner was arrested by police and held for at least 18 days for assisting opposition activists in the country. Anacleto Micha Nlang, co-founder of the banned rights group Guinea is Also Ours, was delivering food to families held under siege in the offices of the outlawed Citizens for Innovation (CI) party. In 2021, an exiled investigative journalist was the subject of threats following the publication of an article alleging corruption at the highest level in his home country.

An oil-rich state, the elite of the country are thought to have plundered the proceeds from this natural resource. In 2017 Obiang’s eldest son, vice-president of the country at the time, was convicted of embezzling millions of dollars from his government and laundering the money through France. He was handed a three-year suspended prison sentence and a $35 million fine.

“With the President’s reign likely to continue, and then passed on to his son, there is currently no sign of a name other than Obiang to be installed as the leader of the nation,” says Clarke.

Equatorial Guinea: Journalist Delfin Mocache Massoko facing threats over corruption investigation

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116347″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Delfin Mocache Massoko, an investigative journalist from Equatorial Guinea, has been the subject of threats following the publication of an article alleging corruption at the highest level in his home country.

Mocache Mossako is the founder of Diario Rombe, a website dedicated to Equatoguinean affairs based in Spain, where he has refugee status. He was one of the authors of a cross-border investigation published in January by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

According to the investigation, Gabriel Obiang, minister of mines and hydrocarbons and son of the President of Equatorial Guinea, diverted funds into offshore companies controlled by his associates.

A Twitter campaign launched by South Africa-based lawyer NJ Ayuk (who has close ties to the Obiang family) accused Mocache Massoko of spreading misinformation. One tweet read: “the lies of Delfín Mocache … have generated an incalculable amount of damage to many people, businesses and Africans.”

In another tweet, Ayuk said: “He is scared because we are going to catch him… those responsible for his lucrative lies. I’m looking forward to questioning these money-hungry charlatans. You will have a lot of fun. We will imprison him.”

At present, there is no suggestion that Ayuk is threatening anything beyond lawful investigation and prosecution, but there is a risk that his words will be misinterpreted in the environment of a country where dissidents are forced into exile.

Mocache Massoko told Index: “There is a history of citizens of Equatorial Guinea critical of the country’s political system being abducted abroad and clandestinely transferred to African prisons. In the past there have been cases of torture against dissidents, activists, and human rights defenders.”

This week, a South African court ordered Ayuk and his company, Centurion Law Group, to cease its campaign against Mocache Mossako and OCCRP and issue apologies. However, they responded today by issuing further threats to issue “multiple legal claims in various jurisdictions.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You may also want to read” category_id=”540″][/vc_column][/vc_row]