The United States Wednesday singled out regional ally Egypt as well as Iran, Libya and Syria in the Middle East for jailing rights activists because of their beliefs.
In particular, the State Department's human rights report for 2008 said the situation in Iran had worsened and that respect for human rights in Egypt remained poor.
It said there were "continued serious challenges for the promotion of democracy and human rights" in the region during the year, "though there were some notable steps forward."
However, technological progress also resulted in steps backwards.
"Along with greater access to information through the Internet and satellite television came greater restrictions on media, including Internet bloggers," the report said, naming Egypt and Iran.
The report, the first released under the administration of President Barack Obama, said there was a decline in the Cairo government's respect for freedoms in 2008.
Respect for human rights in Egypt "remained poor, and serious abuses continued in many areas," it said.
The report said Iran also intensified its crackdown on dissent "through arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture, and secret trials that occasionally end in executions."
On Israel and the Occupied Territories the reports said the government generally respected its citizens' human rights, although discrimination against Arabs, non-Orthodox Jews and other religious groups persisted.
Also it said the Israel maintained unequal education systems for Arab and Jewish students.
Many Middle East nations continued to restrict religious freedoms, the report said, citing members of the Bahai faith detained in Iran.
"Legal and societal discrimination as well as violence against women continued throughout the region," the report said.
"Iranian women's rights activists were harassed, abused, arrested, and accused of 'endangering national security' for participating in peaceful protests and demanding equal treatment under Iranian law."
Some prgress made
But the report also said there had been some progress on women's rights.
"In Kuwait, 27 women ran for office in May 2008 national elections, although none of the female candidates won. Also during the year, the UAE appointed its first female judge and two female ambassadors."
The State Department said Syria in 2008 "continued to violate citizens' privacy rights and to impose significant restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association, in an atmosphere of government impunity and corruption."
On Libya, it said Tripoli announced in March it had freed political activist Fathi Al-Jahmi, "but he remained in detention at the Tripoli Medical Center during the year and was granted only sporadic visits by his family."
On the upside, the report said some countries in the region took steps to address labor abuse and raise labor standards, saying Oman and Bahrain "enacted comprehensive laws to combat human trafficking and Jordan extended labor law protections to expatriate household workers."
And on Iraq, it said the general security situation had improved in the year, "and some reconciliation and easing of tensions occurred in several provinces.
"However, continuing insurgent and extremist violence against civilians undermined the government's ability to uphold the rule of law, resulting in widespread and severe human rights abuses."