List of Countries With Strict Internet Censorship
This is known as the internet age. Ostensibly, this should mean that all peoples (or perhaps a vast majority of people) should have easy access to the internet. In the first place, people should communicate and interact via the various channels made available by the internet. These include social media platforms, emailing, and so on. Similarly, there should be unrestricted access to the internet, especially considering how information has shaped and transformed global narratives. Apart from these, the internet should provide an avenue for integration, commerce, recreation, and so much, given the ever-evolving nature of cyberspace.
To a great extent, especially in developed (and some developing) nations, this is obtainable. However, it is still shocking that in this internet age, censorship in various forms currently exists. These restrictions are often put in place by governmental authorities. Governments that employ censorships typically run repressive regimes. Censorship then is only an extension of their ideological and political views. Mostly, they gag the internet to enable them to control the information circulated within their territories.
In this article, we catalog some of the countries with the strictest internet censorship. The idea of this article is to inform you of these countries. Thus, where possible, you could avoid traveling to them. However, if that is not possible, we have a means you could employ to get around the restrictions in such countries.
Methods Employed to Restrict the Internet
There are several mechanisms countries employ to restrict the internet. Find the two broad categories below:
Cutting Off Citizens from the Internet
This is a measure employed only by the most repressive regimes. Here, the authorities cut off a huge chunk of the citizenry from accessing the internet. They make a part of the internet available to just a portion of the populace. The authorities then censor the content available in the restricted space. Only approved content is made available. This severely limits the reach of citizens.
In other cases, the government blocks certain websites. Thus, as long as you are within the country, you would be unable to access these sites. The authorities can also set up systems that identify topics unapproved by the government and delete them. Usually, these governments create algorithms that identify the banned keywords. In some rare cases, officials go through the sites themselves to discover and delete controversial content.
Although governments usually initiate restrictive measures, it is Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who enforce them. The methods they employ include:
IP address blocking: Here, specific IP addresses are identified and blocked. This could affect any other website hosted on the same server, even if it does not contain offensive content.
Removing web pages from search engines: In this situation, the government works with search engine owners to exclude some web pages from their search results. Thus, the only route to accessing the website’s content is directly keying in their URL.
URL filtering: Websites with sensitive keywords in their URL can be flagged and removed.
Countries With Strict Internet Censorship
Here is a list of the countries with the strictest internet censorship. Generally, the bulk of them also suppress press freedom and engage in various other forms of censorship. Here goes.
You probably may not have heard of this country. This makes it even sadder that the first introduction you have will be on this note. Turkmenistan is a small country bordered by Iran, Iraq, and Uzbekistan. One common thread that connects the three countries mentioned in the fact that they all have oppressive regimes. Thus, Turkmenistan is in familiar company, it appears.
However, where the other regions have mild restrictions, Turkmenistan operates total gagging of the internet. It runs just one government-owned internet provider. This has been the practice since 2001. With that, it is able to control the internet space massively. Hence, in the country, popular social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are blocked.
What is more? It monitors the internet traffic of its citizens. It is not unusual to find that the government rifled through a random citizen’s email contents.
Finally, press freedom and independent media are myths in the country. Opinions are heavily censored and have to conform to the government’s stipulated standards. A deviation from this could lead to “disappearances”. International media and other organizations such as the United Nations have consistently spoken up against the almost totalitarian system operated in the country.
2. North Korea
North Korea comes a close second to Turkmenistan. According to some rankings, North Korea is just as restrictive, or even more repressive, than Turkmenistan. This comes as no surprise considering the country’s tenuous relationship with internet freedom. Over several decades, the country has established a wanton disregard for internationally accepted standards of press freedom. Hence, blocking out any intervention from outside sources.
This country allows only about 4 percent of its citizens to access the internet. Even at that, this access is closely monitored and controlled by the authorities. In the same vein, just about 7 percent of the citizens use mobile phones. A vast majority of these citizens do not have an idea of what the internet, as we know it, is like.
China is a socialist country with a huge population. It is also a popular tourist destination, attracting no less than 140 million visitors each year. It is perhaps why internet censorship is not so tight in the country. Thus, citizens have access to the internet and limited access to social media platforms.
However, this does not mean that internet censorship does not exist in the country. The government keeps a strict eye on the internet content accessible to citizens. Hence, it monitors traffic, blocks offending IP addresses, and even erases the web pages that it considers inappropriate.
In a bid to proliferate content that is pro-China, the government provides alternatives to popular social media platforms. These platforms encourage innovation and independent thinking among the country’s software developers. However, on the downside, internet freedom is mortgaged. Users cannot freely hold or share opinions, especially if they are considered anti-government.
The Chinese authorities have an elaborate encryption mechanism that blocks off access to restricted content. This is called the Great Chinese Firewall. It blocks users abroad from accessing content meant for Chinese residents. It also blocks Chinese residents from accessing censored content outside the country. This encryption system is quite powerful. It is the metric used to judge how effective a VPN provider is.
Eritrea is the first African country to make the list. This might be surprising and even disappointing for some. This is because, just like the first country under review, Eritrea is relatively unknown. It is also a very small country, also doubling as the last country to gain independence in Africa. Therefore, the expectation for many is that it would be a beacon of democracy at the very least. It is hence surprising that it suppresses press and internet freedom.
The country regularly cracks down on journalists. The most targeted ones are usually those who hold dissenting views about the government. This situation is so rampant that international media outfits hardly send reporters to the country. Specifically, in 2015, the country jailed almost 24 journalists without charges.
The government is also restrictive when it comes to internet freedom. The country’s internet is very slow, hindering the free flow of information. Every independently run media was shut down in 2001. Due to the low internet access, citizens have to make do with internet cafes. These cafes are notoriously slow and often jam-packed. Even more so, they are hubs for the government, creating room for easy monitoring of citizens’ activities.
5. Saudi Arabia
This Middle Eastern country has quite a reputation for restricting press freedoms. Bloggers and website owners are routinely hunted down and imprisoned.
To further control the internet space, the government requires bloggers and website owners to obtain a license. The Ministry of Culture provides this license. This is no doubt another ruse to monitor the contents circulated by these spaces. Thus, the government relies heavily on cyber-surveillance. Each of the registered blogs has to stick to the regulations put out by the authorities. A violation of this would simply lead to a withdrawal of the license. In such a scenario, the website will be taken off the air.
Platforms and apps supposed to circumvent this restriction are deeply frowned upon. For instance, you would find it difficult to use a VPN in the country. Even when it is possible to do so, you may experience continuous interruptions throughout the period of use.
Even more so, you stand the risk of going to jail if the government discovers your VPN use. Furthermore, if unsanctioned content is traced back to you, you may face severe penalties. In all, it is an almost hellish experience to use the internet in Saudi Arabia.
Internet censorship is so tough in Vietnam that the government controls both the print and broadcast media. There is an existing law that grafts the press into the government. The law states that the press is supposed to serve as the voice of the state and its policies. Consequently, any media outlet that violates this dictate is summarily punished.
The authorities routinely censor blogs and social media. There are certain select topics that are considered sensitive and thus regulated. This includes human rights activism and the support for political dissidents. Again, outfits that violate the government-imposed restrictions get punished. All of these are backed by the laws and edicts the authorities put in place from time to time.
The most recent Cybersecurity Law came into force on January 1, 2019. The law makes sweeping regulations regarding the use of social media. It further makes provision for a military-like outfit called Force 47. The job of the unit is to identify and confront wrong views.
Iran is also another country with restrictions on its internet space. The country is heavily religious, and this affects the laws it makes regarding the internet. Additionally, there have been series of political turmoil in the country over several decades. Thus, the government often hinges on this to restrict internet use. The usual excuse is that censorship is supposed to help quell political tensions.
Just like in Saudi Arabia, individuals who run blogs, websites, or other such media outfits have to
register with the government. After that, the country’s Ministry of Arts and Culture then keeps these outfits on a tight leash. The authorities monitor posts by these bloggers. If anyone violates the stipulations by the authorities, they get penalized.
This restriction also applies to private citizens and their use of the internet. Iran’s surveillance system may not be as sophisticated as China’s, but it nonetheless is repressive. Journalists have been threatened, and some even jailed for publishing stories the authorities considered offensive.
Syria operates an elaborate system that totally regulates internet use by its citizens. Citizens do not have widespread access to the internet. This forces a huge chunk of them to turn to cybercafés for their internet needs. Even at that, the government also finds means to limit the already limited internet access.
The country’s laws stipulates that cybercafes register with the government. Beyond that, they have to engage in spying activities for the government. They keep records of users’ activities, including the times they used the internet and the sites visited. The authorities routinely go through these records and then fish out users they accuse of violating the laws. Punishments might even involve executions in some cases.
Crackdowns on dissidents and violators are all very common. The authorities sometimes disconnect the internet, providing no alternative for the citizens. The country has quite a reputation in the international community and is on several “Enemy of the Internet” lists.
Egypt is the second African country to make our list. This country is popular because of its tourist attractions. It boasts of beatific sceneries and ancient tourist sites that attract thousands of visitors each year. However, Egypt’s history with censorship and surveillance is a less known fact. The country imposes certain restrictions on the use of the internet within the region.
Certain sites are blocked within the country. One of the most popular ones is the news network, Al Jazeera. If you somehow manage to gain access, maybe using a VPN lets you open yourself to risks. If the government discovers that you are accessing such sites, you could be imprisoned. Prison terms range between a few months to a whole year. This is in addition to the fines you may have to pay, too. This law applies to both citizens and tourists.
The authorities also shut down social media platforms sometimes. This is especially in volatile periods such as during demonstrations and riots.
Cuba is a moderate country, which admittedly is making some moves to redeem its image. At the moment, there is increased access to the internet. Also, the country has established public wi-fi points at several locations.
However, the government heavily controls the internet and print media. The law in place even stipulates that the outputs by these media outfits have to be in line with the government’s dictates. Also, the cost of connecting to the internet severely limits access to the internet. Even those who can afford to be on the internet do not have free rein.
How to Stay Safe While in a Country With Internet Censorship
The perfect suggestion would be to avoid traveling or visiting any of such locations at all. However, this may not be practical. You could have an urgent business you need to conduct in any of the countries. In addition, some of them have really impressive tourist locations that you may want to explore. What is then the means to keep safe? Use a VPN.
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is an app that is built specifically to enhance your security. If the restrictions are geo-based, you can overcome them with a VPN. In addition, a VPN also provides certain other benefits such as access to platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and iPlayer.
These countries often invest a lot into their encryption mechanisms. Hence, they usually identify and block VPN users. Only the best providers are able to beat these authorities at their games. One VPN provider that we absolutely trust is ExpressVPN.
ExpressVPN has an impressive network of servers. It has fantastic security and privacy features. In addition, it can get around whatever restrictions with no challenges whatsoever. If any VPN provider can do the job, it will be ExpressVPN.
This list shows you the countries with the strictest internet censorship. You can bear this in mind if you are making plans to visit or live in any of the countries. We also showed you a means to stay safe while in any of the countries. Happy reading!