Tyrant of the year 2022 named

It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for – the announcement of the annual Tyrant of the Year competition winner. While competition was tough, one leader surged ahead, by a mile in fact. Our Tyrant of the Year for 2022 is Andrés Manuel López Obrador from Mexico. López Obrador presides over a country which has the dubious honour of being the country in which more journalists were killed last year than any other. It is also the country ranked as the most dangerous place to be an environmental defender, according to Global Witness. The number of kidnappings, assaults and arrests under his watch has been huge. Mexico’s climate of impunity makes it possible. López Obrador has also cosied up to the military and Donald Trump and lashed out at women, NGOs and the New York Times. Forbes called López Obrador “a human rights disaster”.

Index policy and campaigns officer Nik Williams, who nominated Obrador for the award, said, “The high number of votes for López Obrador is testament to the structural threats to free expression in Mexico that has made it the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, outside of a warzone. For the good of journalists, their families and colleagues, as well as the broader Mexican society, we hope Obrador takes the steps necessary to protect media freedom. Only then will this be the first and last time he is voted Tyrant of the Year.”

We covered Mexico a lot in the years under his predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto. We noted with alarm the escalation of violence against journalists in particular. When López Obrador came to power in 2018, he did so with promises to pull the country out of a dastardly spiral of crime, corruption and inequality. People were cynical about these pledges at the time and it’s a shame to see their cynicism was correct. Mexico remains very much on the Index radar as a result and we will continue to cover the country in our magazine and online.

Read about all the shortlisted leaders here.

Who is 2022’s Tyrant of the Year?

At the end of every year, Index on Censorship launches a campaign to focus attention on human rights defenders, dissidents, artists and journalists who have been in the news headlines because their freedom of expression has been suppressed during the past twelve months. As well as this we focus on the authoritarian leaders who have been silencing their opponents.

Last year, we asked for your help in identifying 2021’s Tyrant of the Year and you responded in your thousands. The 2021 winner, way ahead of a crowded field, was Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, followed by China’s Xi Jinping and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad .

The polls are now open for the title of 2022 Tyrant of the Year and we are focusing on 12 leaders from around the globe who have done more during the past 12 months than other despots to win this dubious accolade.

Click on those in our rogues’ gallery below to find out why the Index on Censorship team believe each one should be named Tyrant of the Year and then click on the form at the bottom of those pages to cast your vote. The closing date is Monday 9 January 2023.





Tyrant of the year 2022: Xi Jinping, China

Xi Jinping has excelled with his tyrant credentials this year. Earlier this year, a controversial United Nations‘ report said that “serious human rights violations” have been committed in Xinjiang while Xi’s government is behind moves to repress Uyghurs living in Europe.

Xi has also now started a third term in power, after a 2018 change to the country’s laws to end the previous two-term limit. Tyrants just love to rip up the rule book when it comes to clinging to power. 

“My nomination for Tyrant of the Year 2022 goes to the man who somehow made us all feel sorry for Hu Jintao when he snubbed the former Chinese Communist Party leader back in October, a remarkable feat given that Hu isn’t exactly an ally when it comes to human rights and free speech,” says Index on Censorship’s editor-in-chief Jemimah Steinfeld. 

Xi’s policies are increasingly being called into question.

“His Zero Covid policy is as barmy as it is draconian. It’s led to the deaths of many who have not been able to get urgent medical treatment, been locked in their apartments when they’ve caught fire, have taken their own lives out of desperation,” says Steinfeld.

The protests against his policy (and indeed his legitimacy) showed a kink in Xi’s armour but he responded in true autocratic style – arrests, arrests and more arrests (plus a raft of other silencing measures). 

“The CCP’s unofficial promise to make people’s lives materially better in exchange for fewer political freedoms has been broken,” says Steinfeld. “Unemployment is high and people are miserable and yet his merciless reign shows no signs of getting easier.”

Tyrant of the year 2022: Vladimir Putin, Russia

Vladmir Vladimirovich Putin is the tyrant’s tyrant in more ways than one. Over the two decades he has dominated Russian politics as president and prime minister, he has set a new standard in the brutal oppression of opponents at home and abroad. His illegal invasion of Ukraine on 24 February has had a devastating effect on the global economy and turned Russia into a global pariah. But he has also been a consistent champion of other tyrants, whether it is Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, President Assad of Syria or his closest ally in the region, President Lukashenska of Belarus.

The horrors perpetrated by the army sent to Ukraine in 2022 by Putin are too many to catalogue here. But they include torture and summary execution, as evidenced from the mass graves of Bucha, the forced deportations of citizens of occupied territories in the east of the country, indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets such as the maternity hospital in Mariupol and sexual violence used as a weapon of war. As winter sets in his forces have targeted power facilities, leaving many Ukrainians without light, heat and water in freezing conditions.

Meanwhile, in Russia itself the independent media has been crushed, with many journalists silenced or forced into exile. New legislation has turned protesters into traitors. Even calling Russia’s intervention in Ukraine a war has been deemed a crime, with anyone convicted of spreading “false information” facing a 15-year prison sentence.

“Most tyrants only brutalise their own people or the countries they invade. But Putin is a truly global tyrant who has made the whole world a poorer place by strangling the supply of Russian oil and gas and Ukrainian grain. And he has made it a more dangerous place by bringing the threat of nuclear war to Europe. Tyrant of the year? More like tyrant of the century,” says Index’s editor-at-large Martin Bright.