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The 5 Worst Dictators in Asia | 2008 Edition

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A number of leaders across Asia have stifled political opposition, denied religious freedom and freedom of expression to their people, and imprisoned, tortured, and executed citizens who spoke out against dictatorial rule. Here are five of the worst, as of 2008.

1. Kim Jong-il, North Korea

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Kim Jong-il, the reclusive leader of North Korea, is famous for swigging Hennessy cognac and dining on lobster while his citizens starve to death. With his pot-bellied physique and outstanding hair style, Kim is often portrayed as a comic figure in foreign media. Kim Jong-il is no joke, though. His iron control over every aspect of North Koreans' daily life, the concentration camps where 150,000 citizens labor for political crimes, and the regime's recent production and testing of a nuclear device are far from funny.

2. Than Shwe, Myanmar (Burma)

General Than Shwe is the top military leader of Myanmar's ruling junta. The military government, which renamed the country formerly called Burma "Myanmar," has held opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest since 1990, when she won a presidential election against them. Than Shwe exercises absolute control over the media; both professional journalists and citizen bloggers are subject to arrest and indefinite detention. In September, 2007, Buddhist monks led protest marches in the streets of Burma. In response, Than Shwe's government raided monasteries, fired live ammunition into crowds of marchers, and detained thousands of monks, students, and other citizens. The final death toll is unknown, but could be many hundreds.

3. Hu Jintao, People's Republic of China

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Hu Jintao has led China since 2002, overseeing continued explosive economic growth, and increased international prestige for the world's most populous nation. Few foreign governments are willing to condemn China for its awful human rights record, because the country wields such economic power. Nonetheless, under Hu, China continues to perform forced abortions on women pregnant for a second time, torture and detain Falun Gong members, and restrict media and internet access. China executes more of its citizens per capita than any other country -- perhaps as many as 6,000 in 2007, often for nonviolent crimes such as accepting bribes or theft. The government also harasses members of ethnic minorities like the Tibetans and Uighurs.

4. King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia

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Saudi King Abdullah presides over vast oil reserves; this wealth shields him from international pressure about human rights abuses. Saudi citizens live under a strict Wahhabist interpretation of Sharia law, which mandates amputation of hands as a punishment for theft and floggings for crimes like drunkenness. Execution by public beheading is common for murder, rape, drug trafficking, and witchcraft. Women have almost no rights - they can't work, vote, or drive a car. Women are forbidden from appearing in public without a male relative, and rape victims are often punished as harshly as the perpetrators. Religious freedom is non-existent; the Saudi government allegedly has arrested Shiite pilgrims on the Haj for being "infidels."

5. Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan

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As Uzbekistan's president, Islam Karimov has made a fine art of rigging elections. After the Soviet Union fell, Karimov kept power by stuffing ballot boxes; he got 86% of the vote in 1991. After the election, all his political opponents disappeared or fled into exile. In 2000, Karimov was "re-elected" with 91.9% of the vote; his opponent, Abdulhafiz Jalalov, openly admitted to being a sham candidate, and said that he had voted for Karimov as well. Karimov is widely accused of torturing dissidents, even boiling some prisoners to death. Media and religious freedoms don't exist in Uzbekistan. In May of 2005, the government fired into a crowd of protestors in Andijan, killing several hundred and hiding the bodies in mass graves.

6. Asia's 5 Worst Dictators | 2013 Edition

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So much can change in just five years! Click on the link to see an updated version of the list of Asia's Worst Dictators.
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