(ATTN: ADDS comments by Freedom House research director in paras 5-7)
WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 (Yonhap) -- North Korea remains one of the eight countries rated lowest in civil and political freedoms, with Asia overall suffering setbacks in 2007, according to an annual report released Wednesday by a Washington-based nonprofit organization.
The report by Freedom House, titled "Freedom in the World 2008: Global Freedom in Retreat," categorized South Korea as a "free" country, with the highest rating of 1 in political rights and 2 in civil liberties.
The report surveyed 193 countries, 90 of which were rated "free" and represent 46 percent of the global population. Sixty countries were labeled "partly free" and the remaining 43 were labeled "not free."
Of those rated "not free," North Korea was designated one of the eight worst, along with Cuba, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Libya, Sudan, Burma and Somalia. North Korea received the lowest rating of 7 in both political rights and civil liberties.
Arch Puddington, director of research at the Freedom House, said there was a glimmer of modest improvement in North Korea, however.
North Korea's increasing economic relations with South Korea and China have enabled its people to access videos, music and other cultural outlets, he said at a press conference releasing the report. Such relations have also given North Koreans opportunities to meet and talk with people outside of the country, he said.
"So in this sense, there has been an opening that didn't exist before, and certainly, if North Korea is going to move towards something of a more open society, it will come through these kinds of contact," he said.
Freedom House measured political freedom using the criteria of the electoral process, political pluralism and functioning of the government, while civil liberties were evaluated on freedom of expression, organizational rights and the rule of law.
Asia in general did not fare well in 2007, with a number of countries suffering setbacks, the report said.
Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka all experienced downturns due to heightened restrictions on civil society, while declines were also noted in the Philippines, Burma and Malaysia.
Despite the success stories of South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and India, the region's "current trajectory is distinctly disturbing," the report said.
Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom around the world, has monitored political rights and civil liberties since 1972.
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