There are rules, and then there are rules. No country is without them. There is a fine line between discipline and oppression, apply just the right quality and quantity of regulation and you have discipline. Too much of that and you have oppression. Here are the 10 countrist with the strictest rules.
10. North Korea
The Hermit Kingdom is also last bastion of true Communism in the world. You’ll be surprised that they actually allow tourists into their country, with the exception of Americans and South Koreans. Before you even enter the country you will meet your personal escort, called a minder. He will also be the last person to see you out of the country. He will take you to your hotel (which is likely to be bugged) and fetch you from it each day. He will be by your side 24/7 to make sure you don’t break any of the regulations.
So what’s forbidden in North Korea? First and foremost is speaking out against the government of course. The country has around 12 main newspapers, 20 periodicals and a state TV agency, all controlled by the government. All content is pre-approved by the government and must be only about good things about leader Kim Jong Un and his regime. Only a handful people (belonging to the ruling elite) have access to the Internet, but this is also limited and heavily monitored and has no access to the outside world.
Native North Koreans cannot just loiter around, they have to have a reason to be somewhere at a certain time. The Ministry of People’s Security makes sure people are working when they are supposed to and they comb public parks and places for people doing nothing. They are also referred to as the “Dating Police” because they frequently inspect motels for couples who are not married or just appear suspicious.
North Korea has something worse than their dating police; they have fashion police for both the men and women. Men have to cut their hair every fifteen days, but older men can be allowed more days so they can grow their hair to hide their bald spots. Young men cannot grow their hair more than two inches while older men not more than three inches. As for the women they cannot wear pants.
Infractions are punishable by time in a forced labor camp.
Governed by a legal system based on Sharia law since the revolution of 1979, Iran has set strict social and even personal restrictions. Citizens cannot speak out against the government, cannot protest in the streets or even log on to social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and even Gmail.
Men cannot sport mullets or spiky hair, women cannot wear ponytails and must always hide their hair in a hijab. Skinny jeans are also banned as well as bright clothes and tattoos. Alcohol is also forbidden and so is listening to western music like rock, jazz and rap.
Just like Saudi Arabia, many of these laws also seem to be aimed at women. In 2006, Iranian authorities said the large number of women enrolling in universities might cause “social disparity and economic and cultural imbalances” between men and women. As of 2010 women were banned from taking a number of social studies courses, including Women’s Studies and Human Rights as these are “not in harmony with religious fundamentals and they are based on Western schools of thought.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once said he will not talk to a woman unless she is wearing a hijab, western women included.
Two years into a civil war with no end in sight and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is still cracking down on its citizens more than ever.
Since protests against Assad started in March 2011 the Syrian government has disabled phones, cellular phone coverage and limited access to the Internet, going even as far as to hack the social media sites of “anti-regime” individuals. The government has also banned independent news coverage and bars foreign journalists from entering the country. Local journalists who report stories detrimental to the government or cover stories about protests are detained, and this is if they are lucky. The unlucky ones either disappear without a trace or are found as corpses, many of them with torture marks.
Eritrea, located above the horn of Africa, is a multi-cultural country of over just six million. While the population is a mix of Christian and Muslim (with Christians making up a slight majority) the laws regarding freedom of worship are draconian.
While official religions like Catholicism and Islam are recognized, some sects like Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Bahá’í Faith, the Seventh-day Adventist Church and other non-protestant Evangelical denominations cannot worship freely and face arrest if they insist on doing so. Others are required to register to be able to practice their faith and this entails submitting a lot of personal information which the government can use against them.
The regime of President Isaias Afewerki, who has been in power since 1993, also holds a tight grip on the media. No news gets in or out without their approval. Journalists are handpicked before they even start working and are given instructions on how to cover events. The country does not admit foreign observers of any kind and anyone suspected of sending information to the outside world is immediately jailed.
All Internet service providers must register with a government-operated firm. In 2011 the country was planning to introduce mobile Internet but eventually decided against it, fearful of uprisings.
6. Equatorial Guinea
Not to be confused with Papua New Guinea, Equatorial Guinea is the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power since a coup in 1979, only approves state-run TV stations and radio stations. There is only one newspaper circulating in the country but while this is not state-run its content is also pre-screened.
Foreigners are not normally welcomed into the country and visas are rejected without explanations. The few foreign observers who have been allowed in are always under watch and under escort with instructions not to film anything portraying poverty in the country. They will only invite coverage if Obiang travels abroad.
The citizens of Equatorial Guinea are not allowed to read literature from outside the country, even discouraged from reading in general. There are no bookstores and newsstands to speak of anywhere in the country.
5. Saudi Arabia
Once closed to the outside world for centuries, Saudi Arabia has joined the modern world, but it seems some traditions and beliefs are still hard to shake off.
The kingdom has some of the strictest social laws in the world, with most of them applying only to women. They are not allowed to drive. They should not be seen in public with a man who is not a relative and they must also wear clothes that expose as less skin as possible. Violators can be arrested by the mutawain or the religious police. As for men, they are not allowed to congregate or cross-dress. The consumption of alcohol for both sexes is also discouraged.
Access to the Internet is also restricted with many sites being inaccessible for no discernible reason except that it is “forbidden”. As for their media, authorities reserve the right to appoint and fire senior editors in TV, print and traditional media as they like. Any media criticizing the government is immediately put down and their editors or journalists arrested.
Cuba is a vacation paradise, amd luckily for U.S. tourists the travel restrictions. have been eased recently. However, regardless of this, it is still a communist country. All news is strictly controlled by the Communist Party. You can surf the Internet but it is expensive and mostly exclusive to hotels, and a lot of online content is blocked.
Critics of the government, mostly writers (as websites are thoroughly screened by the authorities), are often jailed and convicted on trumped-up charges. Only last February once such writer was convicted and sentenced five years in jail on questionable charges.
While partying in Cuba is allowed, there are social rules to follow. For one, music with “aggressive lyrics” and others that “misrepresent the inherent sensuality of Cuban women” are banned. The government has targeted Reggaeton, an urban form of Latino-Caribbean music, in particular.
The Chinese economy might be a role model of a developing capitalist economy, but its government is still technically communist. Usually within communist countries there are a lot of restrictions, with the first and foremost being ‘don’t criticize the government.’
China still actively cracks down on critics and dissidents and controls its citizens’ access to information, be this in print, TV or the Internet. The country tends to block out anything found “harmful” to the Chinese youth, meaning anything that can lead them to questions the government or inspire rebellious ways of thinking.
The first thing China does if it wants an issue to die down is an information blackout, those pressing the issue are quickly silenced via imprisonment or threat of imprisonment. Talk of change, reform, progress or the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 are strictly prohibited.
The Japanese have a feudal history and in some way this has carried over to the present. There are levels of authority (i.e. pecking order) that is present in all aspects of Japanese life; from the family and friends to the school and the workplace, and this is strictly adhered to.
Japanese working standards are also among the strictest in the world. People are expected to give their all for their company. Japanese even have a name for when people die of overwork. Taking a personal call at work, especially from a spouse, is taboo and even dishonorable. That aside, their work discipline has carried their economy to among the top in the world.
The country has only recently opened up its tourism market. Before that foreigners were banned and could only visit Japan if they were there to work or study. Plus they must have a sponsor to invite them over first.
While the Japanese are also known to party hard, there are social rules to abide by for both locals and visitors; one must never be too loud or unruly. Tourists are also advised not to talk about World War II or the bombs that hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Singapore is a fine country and by that we mean everything has a fine. You can’t chew gum in public or face a $1,000 fine. You must flush the toilet or face a $150 fine for the first offense. You can’t smoke in public either, you have to follow a dress code in public and you have to wave for a taxi in a non-scandalous manner.
Many argue these little rules, accompanied by big ones, have instilled discipline and order into Singaporeans, and now the country is a tiger economy with almost zero unemployment and poverty and very little crime to speak of. It also has a first-class public education system and its standard of living is now even higher than some European countries.