The global free speech recession

For almost two decades free speech has been in global decline, after making unprecedented progress during the so-called Third Wave of Democratization. The contrasting fates of Nobel Peace Prize winning dissidents like Havel, Walesa, and Mandela on the one hand and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo on the other is a sobering illustration of how the Golden Age of free speech subsided into a free speech recession continuing into our day. By 1989, twelve years after Václav Havel co-authored Charter 77, Czechoslovakia’s Communist dictatorship was gone, and Havel president of a democracy. In 2017, nine years after Liu Xiaobo co-authored Charter 08 calling for democracy, human rights, and putting “an end to punishing speech as a crime,” he died of cancer after spending almost a decade in prison, and with the Chinese Communist Party firmly in control. What explains the free speech recession and how can it be reversed?