The most repressive countries in the world are not just heavily controlled by their central governments, but those governments are usually extensions of a single ruler who has final authority on policy and other government matters.
We used Freedom House rankings to sort through the worst countries in the world in terms of democracy, political freedom, freedom of the press and civil rights. Of the nine countries on that list, Somalia extracted itself from the rest with its recent democratic election of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who is a renowned reform activist, and Turkmenistan, though it remains authoritarian under Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, has significantly curtailed its worst traits since 2006.
The rest of the countries, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Uzbekistan, are all under the rule of one man who, either through military coup or dynastic succession, governs with a stern grasp. They are spread across Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, with North Korea as the outlier in East Asia.
Here are the worst dictators in the world:
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
"President" of Equitorial Guinea since 1979, Teodoro rose to power by overthrowing Dictator Francisco Macias Nguema in a military coup. By the way, that was his uncle. Teodoro is the longest tenured African ruler with over 30 years in charge. Under his supervision, E.G. has developed into one of the largest oil producers on the continent, but that wealth has failed to spread outside the political elite.
The country ranks extremely low on the UN Human Development Index, and the majority of the country struggles to find clean water. He is considered one of the wealthiest heads of state, supposed to have $600 million lifted from oil revenue. He as also been accused of cannibalism by his (few) rivals.
Our boy Isayas has been the President of Eritrea since 1993, and has been both the first and only president in Eritrea's short history. Eritrea has strong negative net migration, as sustained food shortages have been exacerbated by taxation, food seizures and assorted mismanagement. Families caught attempting to flee are fined, but about 66% of the population is malnourished.
Additionally, the country has repeatedly denied offers for foreign aid and the ambassador to the European Union, Girma Asmerom, told the BBC that "foreign food aid demonises the local people and makes them lazy."
Kim Jong Un
Kim is the youngest person on this list, he is believed to be 33 years old and has only been in power since April 2012. He himself hasn't really done anything to deserve placement on this list, but the fact remains that North Korea is the single most totalitarian, isolationist state in the world and all of its international political discourse is extremely militant.
Human rights violations are difficult to determine because the government has such a violent stranglehold on all media in the country. Certainly there is no freedom of expression, religion or travel, and as the most ethnically homogeneous country in the world, minority rights are non-existent. The death penalty is widely administered and without much, if any, judicial process.
Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Saud
The sixth king of Saudi Arabia is rated the 8th most powerful person in the world due to his control of the largest oil fields in the world and his position as the de facto leader of the Muslim world.
The country is ruled under Islamic law and is essentially a theocracy. This means that religious and political dissenters often face punishments from past centuries. Women are cloistered and prevented from even driving cars. Homosexuality is punishable by death. Media is actively censored by the government and political parties are banned.
Al-Bashir came to power in a bloodless military takeover of Sudan in 1989, when he ousted Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi. His rule, however, has been decidedly less bloodless, leading the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for him in 2009, saying he was responsible for "intentionally directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, Sudan, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians and pillaging their property." Yeah. This is the guy responsible for Darfur. I think Satan might hand him the keys to Hell.
Since 2000, he has served as the president of Syria, taking over for his father, who ruled for the 30 years previously. The country is hella mixed up right now, and Assad has only contributed to the suffering. He has recently been accused of using chemical weapons against non-militant citizens, charges he has denied, but even aside from that he has had repeatedly used excessive force in shutting down peaceful protests and displayed extreme insensitivity to minority groups in his country.
Syria's position closer to Europe and more developed economy have combined to produce relatively higher scrutiny on him compared to some of the other bastards on this list, but he is certainly in appropriate company.
The communist President of Uzbekistan has been in power since 1990, just before the fall of the Soviet Union. He has been known to execute political prisoners by boiling them to death, and British Ambassador Craig Murray reported "widespread torture, kidnapping, murder, rape by the police, financial corruption, religious persecution, censorship, and other human rights abuses."
The United Nations found Uzbekistan, and Karimov's government, responsible for torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, in violation of international accordances of human rights.
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