Tyrant of the year 2022: Kim Jong-un, North Korea
01 Dec 2022

“As far as freedoms go, there is no landscape so bleak as North Korea,” says Index assistant editor Katie Dancey-Downs. “Under Kim Jong-un’s totalitarian regime, citizens are fed propaganda in lieu of actual food. And as for elections? The ballot paper has only one option.”

Kim Jong-un continues to rule as the supreme leader of North Korea, keeping alive the brutal legacy of the Kim dynasty. He makes a grand show of nuclear weapons on the global stage (including recently firing more than 20 missiles across the sea border with South Korea) while much of the country lives in extreme poverty and under close surveillance. One of Kim’s most recent photo opportunities was alongside what is believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile – he watched as the test was launched.

Criticism of the regime is not tolerated. Dissent is punished severely. Executions and prison camps drive fear under this totalitarian regime, while lavish displays of affection are demanded by its leader.

“North Koreans are nothing short of modern-day slaves who have been deprived of freedom of expression and movement,” says Jihyun Park, a UK-based activist who escaped from North Korea – twice. “North Korea is a place where I lived like a machine and remained silent.”

North Korea lands in last place in the Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index, out of 180 countries. Only official government news sources are permitted, which are packed with propaganda. No outside information gets in, and what the rest of the world gets to see is controlled with the tightest of grips. Some tyrants might overreach on internet clampdowns, but for Kim it’s all or nothing. North Koreans only have access to a localised intranet, with absolutely no view of the world wide web in any form.

With Kim Jong-un the third generation in the dynasty, and talks of his eventual successor hotting up, Dancey-Downs comments: “Perhaps beyond simply Tyrant of the Year, Kim should be up for a lifetime achievement award.”

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