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US names allies Egypt and Turkey in report on global attacks on freedom

Governments around the world are cracking down on basic freedoms, the United States warns in a report that includes key US allies
Chief editor of Turkish daily Zaman, Suleyman Bag, poses with the newspaper's last edition following a government crackdown in March 2016 (AFP)

Governments around the world are cracking down on basic freedoms, the United States warned on Wednesday, in a report that did not spare key US allies like Turkey and Egypt.

Secretary of State John Kerry, writing the preface to his department's annual human rights report, said attacks on democratic values point to a "global governance crisis".

"In every part of the world, we see an accelerating trend by both state and non-state actors to close the space for civil society, to stifle media and Internet freedom, to marginalise opposition voices, and in the most extreme cases, to kill people or drive them from their homes," he said.

The report, compiled on a country-by-country basis by US diplomats, has no legal implications for US policy and a critical write up does not compel Washington to cut ties or military aid to rights abusers or to impose sanctions upon them.

But Kerry argued that the detailed report - the 40th his department has produced - would strengthen US determination to promote what he called "fundamental freedoms" and to support those groups Washington sees as human rights defenders.

"Some look at these events and fear democracy is in retreat," he said. "In fact, they are a reaction to the advance of democratic ideals, to rising demands of people from every culture and region for governments that answer to them."

As might be expected, the report is critical of US rivals like Russia and China - where it says civil rights groups face increasing repression - and of foes like Iran and North Korea, where citizens face extrajudicial killings and torture.

But it also paints a grim picture of the state of play in some allied countries, including NATO member Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government has cracked down on opposition media and arrested several leading journalists. 

"The government has used anti-terror laws as well as a law against insulting the president to stifle legitimate political discourse and investigative journalism," the report says.

It accuses Turkish authorities of "prosecuting journalists and ordinary citizens and driving opposition media outlets out of business or bringing them under state control". 

And while denouncing the violence of the "PKK terrorist group," the report accuses Turkish security forces of excesses of its own, citing "credible allegations that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings".

The report could anger Erdogan, who visited Washington last month and denied that there had been any crackdown on free expression in his country, even as his security detail tried to expel opposition journalists from the think tank hosting his speech.

Turkish authorities seized control of the Cihan news agency and took over the country’s main opposition newspaper, Zaman, in March 2016, prompting criticism from the European Union about restrictions on media freedom in Turkey.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the seizure of Zaman was “unacceptable and went against European values”.

Egypt, which receives $1.5bn dollars in US military aid despite President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s authoritarian style of rule, also faced stern criticism in the US report.

"There were instances of persons tortured to death and other allegations of killings in prisons and detention centres," the report says, citing NGO and UN reports of hundreds of Egyptians having gone missing since the 2011 revolution.