Freedom House's annual report on the state of global freedom labels 90 countries as "free" in 2012, increasing by three from the previous year, with 16 countries showing positive gains.
But 27 countries' scores declined, marking the seventh year the report has indicated more declines than gains worldwide.
The data also indicated increased dictator persecution of civil society organizations and the media, as well as escalating violence as a result of gains in the Middle East revolutions.
Freedom House said the most striking gains came in Libya, which went from the classification of "not free" to "partly free," marking the country's biggest numerical jump in the report's 40-year history.
Myanmar, formerly Burma, and African countries also saw increases, Freedom House reported, while declines occurred in Kenya, Turkey and Russia, among others.
Freedom House said the number of electoral democracies was the same as in 2011, at 117, with two achieving the status and two dropping from the category.