It’s easy to take living in a free country for granted. Most of us wake up, make a cup of coffee, turn on the news, or browse the internet. It seems like an everyday facet of modern life, but many people in the world aren’t afforded the same luxury. Some countries impose extreme censorship guidelines on the media and freedom of information, and millions across the globe still don’t have access to information we seldom think twice about.
1. Saudi Arabia
The oppressive Saudi regime has a dark and complicated history with media censorship. The country uses lax laws created under the premise of anti-terrorism and cybercrime prevention to jail whistleblowers, journalists, social media users, and bloggers who dare to question the country’s government. These censorship laws and their consequences lead to the clandestine execution of Jamal Kashoggi, a Washington Post writer, in October of 2018.
The government of Belarus has overreaching power pertaining to independent news sources and the way information it presented via internet and cable. Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus since 1994, instituted a law on mass media that has continued to grow in momentum. This law now includes restrictions on the propagation of “fake news”, but the definition of what constitutes fake news remains lax. The law was arguably designed to give the government too much power and influence over the distribution of information and has resulted in the arrest of numerous journalists.
Cuba exercises control over its population’s access to information right where it starts: with the internet. In order to spend less time policing content, the country simply made it difficult for the majority of citizens to get online. Almost everyone in the country did not have access to the internet from home until the year 2017. Even still, internet access is an exorbitantly expensive luxury and comes with many restrictions affecting news and reporting outlets.
Eritrea makes no illusions – the government controls the news. Every single independent news outlet has been shut down or outright blocked in the country. Citizens of Eritrea can only get online by visiting internet cafes that are controlled and monitored by the government. The country has gone so far as to use signal jammers to disrupt incoming transmissions from outside of its borders. In addition to access restriction, Eritrea is notorious for jailing all journalists that do not work with the government.
Vietnam’s communist party controls any and all information that enters the country. This is a common practice of censorship under communist regimes. All journalists must be approved by the party, and journalist from outside of Vietnam are required to be supervised by an individual sent by the government. Although their track record isn’t as significant as some other restrictive countries, Vietnam does have a history of jailing journalists.
Iran attempts to present the image that the press is free, but things aren’t how they appear to be on the surface. Journalists that even slightly deviate from the government’s narrative are often stalked and harassed. Foreign press is allowed in Iran, but they are closely monitored by government agencies. One false move, and their right to report in Iran is rescinded.
The country has made attempts to block nearly every popular social media and streaming platform. Their technology is not so sophisticated that VPNs cannot bypass it. Many citizens of Iran secretly circumvent restrictions via VPN to access sites like Facebook and YouTube.
7. Equatorial Guinea
Equatorial Guinea has a long history of censorship through fear. Almost every reporting agency is government owned. Although smaller independent reporting outlets do exist, the threat to reporters has been made clear. Don’t criticize the administration, even slightly, or something terrible may happen. This has pushed independent reporters to censor themselves.
8. North Korea
North Korean censorship has been a popular discussion for over a decade. The country is known for their ruthless laws, many of which people suspected to be jokes or rumors. Defectors from the country report most of them to be true. The free press has no place in North Korea, being ushered by a state sponsored escort only through approved areas. There is no internet in North Korea, and citizens have to obtain outside films, music, news, and other forms of entertainment through a complex smuggling process.
China is terrifyingly prolific at jailing journalists, with one of the highest known totals to date. Censorship guidelines put in place by the communist party force Chinese citizens to adhere to social media platforms that are endorsed by the state, disallowing information and people from outside government control from becoming a part of the conversation. The Chinese rebelled, circumventing restrictions by using VPNs. Now the government is attempting to track and punish those it believes may be using VPNs to access social media.
Turkmenistan all but forbids the presence of independent news outlets. While several do exist, journalists and readers of the outlets are frequently interrogated and jailed. Internet access in Turkmenistan is tightly restricted, with more than 75% of the population unable to get online. To restrict the meager amount that can, the government has criminalized the use of VPNs that may be used to circumvent their censorship and control of what they deem allowable to access.
Many people who live in countries with extreme censorship laws choose to use VPN service to bypass restrictions, sometimes at cost to their personal safety. In an age where information restriction and surveillance of citizens remains frighteningly common, internet privacy should remain a high priority.