Freedom of Expression

Let’s Talk About the Future of Democracy

Here at Just Atonement, we actively search for good news and bright beacons that can lead us toward a better world—a Golden Age of global democracy and global justice. We know that perfection on this point is impossible in a messy world characterized by immeasurable diversity in terms of geography, ethnicity, age, gender, religion, culture, sense of purpose, sense of action, and competing versions of the good. We recognize that people, by nature, all move toward a “better world” defined by different terms. But bearing that in mind, we see democracy and freedom of thought and expression as universal paths to justice, equality, and peace.


So we try to focus on the good news and look for signs that the world is on the right track. But sometimes, in order to access the truth, we must also take a hard and difficult look at news and status reports that may be unsettling. The Economist Intelligence Unit recently released its “Democracy Report” for 2017, and while the factors that contribute to the primary conclusion are many, the conclusion is simple: the global health of democracy revealed signs of trouble during the past year.

According the report, 27 countries under review saw increases in their scores over the past year, specifically related to freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and free access to information. But 89 countries saw declines. The position of the United States has slipped into the category of “flawed democracy”, and so have several countries across Asia, news made more troubling by President Xi Jinping’s recent efforts to remove presidential term limits in China.

Among the countries at the bottom of the list, the Democratic Republic of the Congo experienced the steepest decline. As recently as last week, government security forces have launched a violent crackdown on protesters who urge president Joseph Kabila to step down following the end of his term in 2016. This past weekend, security forces have used tear gas and live ammunition to threaten protesters gathered in churches. Developments are unfolding in the DRC, as well as China, and of course threats to democracy are taking shape in the form of assaults on the media in the United States and Europe.

Please click here for a summary of the report (you can also download the related whitepaper, which requires registration with the site), and provide comments if you choose.

Questions Surround a Newly Enacted Law in Poland

On Tuesday, Polish president Andrzej Duda signed into law a controversial bill passed by the country’s nationalist-controlled parliament. With its passage marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the law is designed to criminalize any person who suggests that the Polish nation or Polish state held complicity in the crimes committed by the Nazi regime during World War II.

It’s a puzzling bill, for several reasons. First and foremost, it’s difficult to understand why members of parliament would pass a bill that invites questions and investigations that the signers seem interested in suppressing. The bill appears to be an attempt to aggressively shape historical records and discourage a search for truth, connections, justice, peace and reconciliation, all of which result from honest historical exploration and discussion.

We don’t know exactly what purpose the bill will serve, and it’s difficult to fathom the true intentions of those who drafted the initial legislation. But this gesture seems designed to undermine freedom of expression and distort the rule of law, which are both classic signals of authoritarian overreach. According the language of the text, “Whoever accuses the Polish Nation” of complicity in the crimes of the Third German Reich “shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years.”

This is a chilling action taken by a stable democratic nation that experienced some of the worst atrocities of the era, and in the U.S., the gesture has been largely overshadowed by competing events that vie for a place in our news cycle. But here at Just Atonement we’re paying attention, and we hope the global community will not allow this decision or its underlying motivations to pass unnoticed.

Democracy requires vigilant and constant protection, and the most dangerous threats are often insidious and incremental. Join us as we monitor the outcome of this questionable decision. In the meantime, learn more about the details of the law by clicking here and here and here.