Though our nation’s complex system of checks and balances is not always perfect, we remain the greatest example of democracy and freedom the world has ever seen. While our country still stands as the world’s great beacon of freedom and opportunity, the far-left narrative disingenuously portrays the U.S. as rife with oppression and persecution. The sad fact is that actual oppression and persecution are a tragic fact of life in many other countries. Liberties we often take for granted — such as due process, freedom of speech, and the right to bear arms — are non-existent under these authoritarian regimes. Here are some alarming developments in five of the most oppressive.
The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela at the hands of Nicolás Maduro’s “illegitimate regime” has only been exacerbated by the current pandemic.
The Trump Administration “indicted Maduro and 14 regime officials on narco-terrorism, proposed a dramatic power-sharing and transition agreement, and bolstered U.S. counter-narcotics assets in Latin America,” according to Ana Quintana, a senior policy analyst at the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy.
The Heritage Foundation gives Maduro’s Marxist regime and abysmal “economic freedom score” of 25.2, “making its economy the 179th in the 2020 Index.”
“Economic freedom has been suffocated in Venezuela under the Maduro regime,” The Heritage Foundation continues. “If a transitional government could take power and begin the long return to market democracy, it would have to end hyperinflation, restructure public debt, and rebuild institutions to restore confidence and promote investment.”
Starvation is now commonplace in Venezuela due to decades of socialism alongside widespread corruption. A recent piece in The Atlantic reported that “78 percent of Venezuelans eat less than they used to, and 41 percent go whole days without eating.” The report goes on to provide horrifying details that harken back to Stalinism:
“To anyone who knows the long history of the relationship between Marxist regimes and famine, this development seems uncannily familiar. More than 80 years ago, in the winter of 1932–33, Stalin confiscated the food of Ukrainian peasants and did nothing while nearly 4 million died. Then he covered up their deaths, even altering Soviet population statistics and murdering census officials to disguise what had happened. To anyone who knows the long history of Communist countries’ use of food as a weapon, the Venezuelan regime’s manipulation of the food supply comes as no surprise, either. Most Venezuelans—80 percent according to a recent survey—now rely on boxes of food, containing staples such as rice, grain, or oil, from the government…The hungrier people get, the more control the government exerts, and the easier it is to prevent them from protesting or objecting in any other way. Even people who are not starving now spend most of their time just getting by—standing in lines, trying to fix broken generators, working second or third jobs to earn a little bit more—all activities that keep them from politics.”
2. Saudi Arabia
Though a U.S. ally, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia enforces all sorts of arcane strictures on its people, often in the name of a draconian understanding of Islam that emerged in the nineteenth century. The kingdom spends billions upon billions promoting its brand of religious extremism — loosely known as Wahhabism — across the globe and has done so now for decades “[b]y investing heavily in building mosques, madrasas, schools, and…cultural centers across the Muslim world,” according to The Week.
Much of the radicalism emerged in 1979 when fears of “Western decadence” led “hundreds of armed militants to occupy the Grand Mosque in Mecca.” The royal family acquiesced to the demands of these extremists and formed an ignoble pact of sorts.
“The royal family made a grand bargain with the clerics: Riyadh would fund the spread of Wahhabism abroad,” according to The Week, “as long as the extremists kept any militant activities off Saudi soil. That deal ensured that radical Islam would overwhelm moderate versions in many countries, and planted the seeds of many terrorist groups.”
Worse, as fanatical as Saudi Arabia’s brand of religiosity is, “ISIS represents a form of Wahhabi ideology that the Saudis can’t control — a cancer that now threatens the kingdom.” One can very much argue that Saudi Arabia had a direct influence on the rise of ISIS and its virulent ideology with the kingdom’s proselytizing around the world.
Saudi Arabia also has little regard for due process and crushes any form of dissent with imprisonment or capital punishment. In 2019, only Iran had more executions.
“Saudi Arabia announced the mass execution of 37 men on April 23, 2019 in various parts of the country,” according to Human Rights Watch. “At least 33 of the 37 were from the country’s minority Shia community and had been convicted following unfair trials for various alleged crimes, including protest-related offenses, espionage, and terrorism. The mass execution was the largest since January 2016, when Saudi Arabia executed 47 men for terrorism offenses.”
Like many other brutal regimes, forms of dissent in the country are often labeled “terrorism” as an authoritarian form of subterfuge. “Saudi authorities will inevitably characterize those executed as terrorists and dangerous criminals” even though the kingdom is “largely devoid of any due process.”
The recent imprisonment of a child provides just one grave example of this ongoing injustice. 13-year-old Murtaja Qureiris was detained by Saudi authorities for taking part in a protest in support of religious freedom at the age of ten, according to CNN.
“Three years after he was filmed taking part in the bike protest, Saudi authorities arrested Qureiris, then just 13 years old. He was traveling with his family to Bahrain when he was detained by Saudi border authorities on the King Fahd causeway that connects the two countries.”
Qureiris barely escaped execution due to international outcry. He was still sentenced to 12 years in prison by the kingdom.
In a bizarre referendum in which “[t]he opposition accused the government of rigging the vote,” Vladimir Putin can now remain president of Russia until 2036, according to NPR.
“Russian voters have overwhelmingly backed a referendum on constitutional changes that includes a provision allowing President Vladimir Putin — who has already served for some two decades — to remain in power until 2036.”
Putin is now able to maintain his stranglehold on the Russian people and beyond under the guise of being “democratically elected.”
A 2019 report from the Atlantic Council argues that oppression and lack of civil liberties are driving Russians to flee elsewhere now more than ever:
“An oppressive political climate marked by a lack of rights and freedoms is now a key factor driving emigration from Russia, according to a new report from the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. This is in stark comparison to emigration before 2012 when economic factors were the primary driver.”
The Russian leader and former KGB agent also excels at Machiavellian tactics, appealing to the moral impulses of many as a smokescreen for his political schemes inside and outside of Russia. “Putin has cleverly cast himself as a belligerent in the culture war” and “a defender of traditional morality” rooted in Orthodox Christianity that appeals to some conservatives far and wide, according to The Heritage Foundation.
His appeals to faith seem a tired ploy, however, and far more rooted in “geopolitics than religious sincerity.”
“Putin is seeking to tighten his grip on Ukraine and Belarus, as well as expand Russian influence further into Eastern and Central Europe. He will undoubtedly continue to promote Orthodoxy in the process. This is simply an attempt to seduce former Soviet republics back under the sway of Russia…Putin’s use of traditional Christianity is calculated for political effect. American and European observers would do well to see through the charade.”
4. The Philippines
Rodrigo Duterte’s reign in the Philippines began with an almost complete abandonment of due process in a treacherous effort to combat rampant drug use in the region.
During his inaugural speech in 2016, Duterte told a crowd of supporters “to shoot and kill drug dealers who resist arrest and fight back,” The Guardian reported. He urged his citizens to take the law into their own hands if they had the means, adding, “Please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun, you have my support.”
AP News reported that “[m]ore than 5,700 mostly poor drug suspects have been killed under Duterte’s anti-drug crackdown” since his infamous declaration in 2016.
His deeply misguided decree has led to allegations of unprecedented vigilantism and a complete disregard for the rule of law from the International Criminal Court and various human rights groups, according to AP News:
“At least two complaints for crimes against humanity and mass murder in connection with Duterte’s campaign are being examined by an ICC prosecutor, who will determine whether there is enough evidence to open a full-scale investigation.”
Duterte recently urged his police force to kill anyone defying lockdown orders and “challeng[ing] the government” at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as detailed by CBS News:
“‘I will not hesitate. My orders are to the police and military, as well as village officials, if there is any trouble, or occasions where there’s violence and your lives are in danger, shoot them dead,’ he said in a mix of Filipino and English in the televised address. ‘Do not intimidate the government. Do not challenge the government. You will lose.’”
5. North Korea
Though President Trump attempted to make unprecedented diplomatic inroads into North Korea in 2018, the country remains enshrouded in secrecy, isolation, and ongoing oppression. It’s no exaggeration to assert that there is virtually no freedom in North Korea. Everything that can be controlled by the state is controlled by the state.
While officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea is a decidedly Marxist regime. All means of production are run by the Worker’s Party of North Korea, including agriculture which is “owned by the party and therefore by the state,” according to the late Hwang Jang-yop, a high-ranking official in North Korea who defected in 1997.
Land is broken down into cooperatives “[s]o ultimately, all the land managed by the agricultural cooperative belongs to the Great Leader.” Such a socialist monopoly on food production has led to ongoing mass starvation and what the late Hwang Jang-yop considers “the greatest human rights violation.”
“That more than 1.5 million people died of hunger from 1995 to 1996 is an irrefutable fact,” the late Hwang Jang-yop explains. “We do not have accurate data about the situation from 1997 to 1998, but since the food supply did not improve much, it can be deduced that at least a million people have met their deaths every year. According to reports that Chinese telecommunications company Xinhua claims it received from officials of the Agricultural Committee in North Korea, a total of 2.8 million people have starved to death at last count at the end of 1997. From this and the irrefutable fact that 1.5 million had died by the end of 1996, we can deduce that another 1.3 million people died in 1997 to add up to a total of 2.8 million deaths by starvation. We have consistently said that more than 1.5 million died between 1995 and 1996 and that 1 million more probably died every year from 1997 to 1998. We never resorted to exaggerating the situation.”
By all accounts, little has changed in North Korea except a greater potential to disrupt the geopolitical balance. The Heritage Foundation recently reported a “massive military parade on October 10” that “revealed an intimidating array of new military systems that increase the threat to America’s homeland and to its Asian allies.”
“Also of great concern for American security,” according to The Heritage Foundation, “the regime demonstrated that it could indigenously produce ICBM transporter erector launchers (TELs). During the parade, four Hwasong-15 ICBMs and four of the new ICBMs were paraded on TELs. North Korea had previously been constrained to six TELs converted from large trucks imported from China in 2012.”