In a functioning democracy, political dissent is a regular and completely legal part of freedom of speech as well as free and fair elections. This page focuses on the dissidents who risk their lives battling the most undemocratic dictatorships in the world. Also, visit our main section on world democracy
Ukrainian exhibitionist feminist protesters with branches in Tunisia and the Middle East. Internationally known for organizing controversially topless protests against sex tourism, religious institutions, sexism and other topics related to women. Battles “patriarchy in sexual exploitation of women, dictatorship and religion”.
Malala was 11 years old when she began blogging anonymously about life under Taliban rule in northwestern Pakistan and launched her campaign to support education for the poor. At 15, she survived a brutal assassination attempt and has recently returned from surgery to resume her work for women’s education as a solution in Pakistan and beyond.
Russian feminist punk rock protest group based in Moscow advocating feminism, LGBT rights, and opposition to Vladimir Putin. Several of the all female rock band have been imprisoned in the notorious Russian gulag system as punishment for peaceful protest including some of those who were beaten by Russian police outside the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Sein is a former military commander who has been President of Myanmar since March 2011. His new government has completed a series of political reforms including deregulation of the country’s censored media and releasing many political prisoners that has transformed the country once among world’s worst human rights offenders.
Dissidents: Freedom Has to Be Won
Dissidents challenge established doctrine, policies, and institutions of dictatorships. The word originates in English in relation to religious “dissident” Protestants during the wars of religion in 16th century Europe. Usage of the term “dissidents” grew in importance in response to the rise in 20th century totalitarian dictatorships like the Soviet Union and North Korea. One of the most famous Soviet dissidents was imprisoned author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Dictatorships use many discriminatory policies to repress their population and dissidents face the worst of their fury. Political repression such as human rights violations, surveillance abuse, police brutality, imprisonment, involuntary settlement, stripping of citizen’s rights, and violent action or terror such as murder, summary executions, torture, forced disappearance and other extrajudicial punishment. Also visit our articles on international corruption.
When dissidents unite for a common cause they often become a dissident movement. All modern dictatorships are opposed by established dissident movements that exist both inside and outside their borders. Many dissident movements find shelter and support for their activities inside the democratic world. Also, take a look at our articles on what some consider American dissidents including Eric Snowden, Julian Assange, and Bradley Manning.
The non-profit Freedom House does a good deal of work assisting these types of dissidents but other charities involved in this fight include Amnesty International and the Worldwide Movement for Democracy. Movements.org is perhaps the major activist group focused solely on helping dissidents. A list of the worst of the worst dictatorships is produced every year by the democracy and civil rights group Freedom House. Take a look at “Worst of the Worst 2012: The World’s Most Repressive Societies“. Here is a quick summary:
More than 1.6 billion people—23 percent of the world’s population—have no say in how they are governed and face severe consequences if they try to exercise their most basic rights, such as expressing their views, assembling peacefully, and organizing independently of the state. Citizens who dare to assert their rights in these repressive countries typically suffer harassment and imprisonment, and often are subjected to physical or psychological abuse. In these countries, state control over public life is pervasive, and individuals have little if any recourse to justice for crimes the state commits against them.
In this year’s Worst of the Worst report, nine countries were identified by Freedom House as being the world’s worst human rights abusers in calendar year 2011:Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Two disputed territories, Tibet and Western Sahara, were also in this category. All of these countries and territories received Freedom in the World’s lowest ratings: 7 for political rights and 7 for civil liberties (based on a 1 to 7 scale, with 1 representing the most free and 7 the least free). Within these entities, political opposition is banned, criticism of the government is met with retribution, and independent organizations are suppressed. Seven other countries fall just short of the bottom of Freedom House’s ratings: Belarus, Burma, Chad, China, Cuba, Laos, and Libya.
With China being the largest dictatorship in the world with massive political power, this page has a good amount of material on China’s vast community of activists pushing for democracy.
ai weiwei: Chinese contemporary artist, active in sculpture, installation, architecture, curating, photography, film, and social, political and cultural criticist. Ai collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. As a political activist, he has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese Government’s stance on democracy and human rights. He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of so-called “tofu-dreg schools” in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In 2011, following his arrest at Beijing Capital International Airport on April 3, he was held for 81 days without any official charges being filed; officials alluded to their allegations of “economic crimes” (tax evasion).
chen guangcheng: Chinese civil rights activist who worked on human rights issues in rural areas of the People’s Republic of China. Blind from an early age and self-taught in the law, Chen is frequently described as a “barefoot lawyer” who advocates for women’s rights, land rights, and the welfare of the poor. He is best known for exposing abuses in official family-planning practices, often involving claims of violence and forced abortions. In April 2012, Chen dramatically escaped from house arrest in his village in northeast China by jumping over a wall at night and making his way via an underground network of relatives, friends, and supporters to the US embassy in Beijing, hundreds of miles away. On 19 May 2012, Chen, his wife, and his two children were granted U.S. visas and departed Beijing for New York City.
liu xiaobo: Despite repeated warnings from the Chinese government, the Nobel Committee named jailed Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo the winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, citing “his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” Liu Xiaobo took part in the student protests on Tienanmen Square in 1989. For that he was sentenced to two years in prison. Liu has been in prison since December 2008, when he was sentenced to 11 years for criticizing China’s communist government in a widely circulated petition dubbed Charter 08. Liu’s wife accepted the committee’s praise on his behalf, and, from house arrest in Beijing, invited Chinese dissidents and writers to attend the ceremony in her husband’s place.
wang bingzhang: On June 27, 2002, Dr. Wang traveled to Vietnam to meet Chinese labour activists. Together with his two traveling companions, they disappeared. He and his companions were kidnapped from Vietnam and forced into China by boat. Pro-democracy activist Dr. Wang BingZhang continues to languish in a Chinese prison serving a life sentence in solitary confinement. See the entire series “In the Prison of China – The Journey of Dr. Wang Bingzhang” by Yaxue Cao at Democracy Chronicles: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.