man with his fist in the air at a protest in El Salvador

Democracy in crisis

The Global Rights Index has tracked the key elements of workplace democracy for 10 years, including the right to establish and join a trade union, the right to collective bargaining, the right to strike, and the right to free speech and assembly, which together symbolise a healthy democracy.

Democracy in crisis

Free speech and assembly under attack

Evidence gathered for 2023’s Index reveals that the systematic dismantling of the building blocks of freedom and democracy is taking place through sustained attacks on workers’ rights and workplace democracy, with continuing restrictions being placed on the right to strike, free speech and assembly.

Over the past 10 years, the Global Rights Index has recorded an unprecedented increase in attacks on free speech and assembly from 26% of countries in 2014 to 42% of countries in 2023.


Countries where freedom of speech and assembly were denied or constrained increased from 26% of countries in 2014 to 42% of countries in 2023.


42% of countries restricted free speech and assembly

Middle East and North Africa


79% of countries in the Middle East and North Africa restricted free speech and assembly.

Compared with 84% in 2022

Right to free speech and assembly

On May Day 2022, workers across Iran held protest marches despite attempts at repression by government forces. In total, over 230 teachers were arrested for taking part in May Day demonstrations.

In Tehran, despite the presence of armed security forces which had surrounded the Islamic parliament, a number of teachers marched to one of the city’s parks, holding banners of protest and posters of imprisoned teachers to mark the day of freedom and equality.

In Bushehr, police forces stormed a gathering of teachers in the morning, beating and arresting at least 12 of them.

On 12 May, teachers in more than 40 cities across Iran gathered to protest against the continued detention of their colleagues. In Yasuj, security forces were deployed in front of the General Directorate of Education to prevent teachers from gathering, and when the teachers tried to gather and protest, more than 50 were arrested and detained.

Right to free speech and assembly

Throughout 2022 and 2023, workers in government-owned companies in Iraq, including in the mining, electricity, oil and construction sectors, were prevented from demonstrating by the authorities. In the education sector, workers were subjected to police harassment when they held demonstrations.

Right to free speech and assembly

In Egypt, workers were not allowed to celebrate May Day. In other events, independent trade unions were prevented from holding meetings and owners of meeting halls were pressured to cancel reservations made by trade unions.

Asia Pacific


61% of countries in Asia-Pacific restricted free speech and assembly.

No change from 2022

Right to free speech and assembly

In April 2022, three garment workers at Sioen Myanmar Garment were arrested for their involvement in the civil disobedience movement. Among the three was a union leader detained after sharing political posts on social media. The three were later released.

Right to free speech and assembly

In Sri Lanka, President Gotabhaya Rajapakse imposed a state of emergency on 6 May 2022 in response to a second one-day general strike on 5 May calling for him to resign. The military were deployed in the free trade zones (FTZ) against hundreds of thousands of FTZ workers who took part in the 28 April and 5 May general strikes along with millions of other workers around the country.

The Board of Investment (BOI) – the state authority under which FTZs operate – claimed that it had been “communicating with the Sri Lanka Police and the Army to ensure the safety of all the workers in order to facilitate transporting them to all respective factories without a hitch”. A spokesperson for the BOI added that the action was taken because “groups of protestors entered the facilities and called out the workers to participate in the industrial actions”. FTZ workers willingly joined the strike to take action against their intolerable living conditions.

In the Katunayake Free Trade Zone, at least one Electricity Board worker was arrested in the days following the general strike. It was reported that three more were arrested but later released following legal intervention.

Right to free speech and assembly

Since August 2021, when it took power in Afghanistan, the Taliban has severely restricted the rights to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression, and has banned protests that did not have prior approval from the Justice Ministry in Kabul.

Right to free speech and assembly

In South Korea, the police banned a demonstration of 499 participants by the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union just two days after it announced a policy to allow smaller demonstrations near the Office of the President. Conflict between the new government and labour was steadily mounting following its hardline response to the Cargo Truckers solidarity strike.

The union called the strike, which began on 7 June 2022, to demand that the government extend a freight rate system guaranteeing basic wages for truck drivers to cope with surging fuel costs (known as ‘safe rates’).

In addition to banning the demonstration, the authorities also took a hard line on picketing. By 10 June, a total of 30 striking truckers had been taken into police custody for allegedly obstructing business.

The strike was suspended on 14 June, when Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union Cargo Truckers’ Solidarity Division (KPTU-TruckSol) reached an agreement with the South Korean Ministry of Land Infrastructure and Transport on the continuation of the safe rates system. The Ministry promised to “continue to propel forward the safe rates system and discuss expansion to other freight types”.

However, the dispute further escalated later in the year as the government invoked emergency laws, issuing ‘return to work’ orders against individual drivers to break another truck drivers’ strike in December.



53% of countries in Africa restricted free speech and assembly.

Compared with 45% in 2022

Right to free speech and assembly

Since the military coup in January 2022, trade unions in Burkina Faso have been unable to operate safely or organise collective actions.

Right to free speech and assembly

On 30 May 2022, three young trade unionists were denied entry into Zimbabwe and deported to their home countries of Tanzania and Uganda, after being harassed and threatened with arrest. They had all travelled to Zimbabwe to attend a capacity development workshop on advancing due diligence in the energy transition supply chain in Sub-Saharan Africa.

One of them, Mamisa, was detained for four hours, before being forced to board the next plane to Nairobi. The Zimbabwean officials refused to explain why she was being deported. While in custody, the immigration officers told Mamisa that they “did not want trade union activists in the country”. They threatened her and forced her to sign a form that claimed she did not have the proper documentation to enter the country.

It was only in Nairobi that she was able to get her passport back, after enduring a further four hours without food or water. She was also given a deportation form. Based on the documentation she received, Mamisa says it is still unclear why she was deported, except for her trade union activities.



20% of countries in the Americas restricted free speech and assembly.

Compared with 24% in 2022

Right to free speech and assembly

On 19 July 2022, the Congress of El Salvador approved an expansion of the exceptional regime, which had been in force since the end of March 2022, under the pretext of combating violence generated by gangs. As of March 2023, the measure remained in effect.

The emergency regime has enabled serious human rights violations in the country, because of the suspension of constitutional guarantees, arbitrary arrests and police abuse, which has generated protests from human rights organisations and insistent calls from the international community. On 3 June 2022, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights pointed out concerns about prison policy, the lack of procedural guarantees, and minimum conditions in Salvadoran detention centres. On 25 October 2022, the government of El Salvador refused to attend the Commission’s hearing about the situation.

Right to free speech and assembly

On 12 May 2022, the Peruvian courts rejected a criminal complaint filed by Peruplast S.A. (AMCOR) on 22 February 2021 against the general secretary of the AMCOR Peru Plast Union, Víctor Inga Maza. The company had accused him of making “false statements” on the union’s Facebook page for publishing a Violation Report against PeruPlast S.A. The spurious accusation had no other aim than to restrict the freedom of expression of the trade union.

Right to free speech and assembly

In May 2022, a national strike was called in Ecuador by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), with the support of the Unitary Front of Workers (FUT), the National Union of Educators (UNE) and unions representing farmers, medical associations, retirees, public unions, educators, students and carriers, to demand respect for collective rights.

During the demonstrations, five people were killed by the police forces, which used deterrence weapons in a lethal manner and arrested dozens of participants. A significant number of the 132 detainees were charged with crimes such as sabotage, terrorism or resistance. In addition to the complaints of kidnapping, persecution and planning attacks against leaders of the demonstrations, the authorities resorted to media censorship and violation of the right to freedom of expression, blocking information, cutting off the internet and social networks, hacking personal email accounts and terminating mobile network service. The unions, including the Ecuadorian Confederation of Unitary Class Organizations of Workers (Cedocut), denounced the escalation of state violence and threats.



13% of countries in Europe restricted free speech and assembly.

Compared with 15% in 2022

Right to free speech and assembly

On 16 March 2023, President Emmanuel Macron moved to force through a new law on the national pension age without holding a vote in the French Parliament. The President resorted to the use of anti-democratic special constitutional powers (contained in article 49.3 of the French Constitution) to push forward his government’s plan to raise the retirement age of French citizens from 62 to 64. Macron’s decision to invoke this controversial constitutional tool was in direct response to the powerful and united labour movements. Millions of French people have forcefully affirmed their opposition to the legislation through weeks of demonstrations and strikes. These mass mobilisations were supported by a large majority of the population and almost all workers. However, the government responded by using illegal requisitions of staff in several sectors, while police forces brutally repressed peaceful demonstrations, using tear gas and batons to violently beat up protesters. Hundreds of people have been arbitrarily arrested in a clear attempt by the authorities to intimidate protestors from continuing to express their demands.

Right to free speech and assembly

On 8 June 2021, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko signed legislation that punishes those accused of taking part in unauthorised demonstrations with imprisonment of up to three years. Those who are found to have participated in or to have promoted “extremist activity” would face up to six years in jail. The definition of “extremist activity” remains ill-defined in the new legislation, leading to fears that the new provisions would be used to suppress any dissent. This law follows others enacted on 24 May 2021, which make it compulsory to obtain a permit from the authorities to organise mass events and prohibit journalists from reporting live from such events. These legal provisions were still in effect in 2023.

In El Salvador, the government used the excuse of combatting gang violence to suspend the basic, democratic rights of working people.Marvin Recinos / AFP

10-year trends: Right to free speech and assembly