Want to know which countries rank as the having the worst internet censorship in 2023? Look no further. Based on research gathered from Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 worst countries as far as internet freedom is concerned.
If you’re planning on moving or taking a trip to any of the countries mentioned in this list, we highly suggest you use a VPN to bypass Internet censorship and staying anonymous while browsing the web there.
The Top 10 Countries with the Worst Internet Censorship in 2023- Quick Overview
Internet Censorship in 2023- What’s Happening Around the World?
According to both Reporters without Borders and Freedom House, there is an overall decline in internet freedom around the world. This decline isn’t anything “new”. In fact, this is the 7th year in a row were global internet freedom has taken a step backward.
Now, most countries do censor some content off the internet for the sake of promoting a safer online experience for their citizens. Most countries do block websites dealing with illegal content, even if they rank as free, and for good reason. However, other countries look at the internet as a “dangerous” tool that citizens shouldn’t have complete access to.
Why Censor the Internet?
One of the things you’ll notice about the list below is that all of them block websites related to human rights organizations. Why? Simple. These websites have the ability to teach what fundamental human rights are. If a country blocks these sites, how will its citizens recognize human rights violations?
Another common censorship practice is to block sites that promote political views that directly oppose the regime within the country. Same as with the first common block, these websites have the ability to showcase what is wrong with the reigning political climate in the country. Activists, bloggers, and journalists are not allowed a platform to discuss the indiscretions of their country’s government. So much so that social media platforms, when not banned, are heavily monitored. Emails and personal communications online fall within the same scope as well. This promotes a culture of self-censorship amongst the citizens and residents of these countries.
In other words, internet censorship in 2929 is used to control the information available to citizens of countries with obstructive regimes. Without this information, these governments can control what and how their citizens think.
Think about it. If you don’t know what democracy truly is, how can you demand it from your government? When you control a people’s source of information, you control how they view the world around them.
Read on to learn about the top 10 countries with the worst internet censorship in 2023 in the world.
The Top 10 Countries with the Worst Internet Censorship in 2023
Here are the countries that ranked as having the worst regulations and censorship online:
Once you’ve heard of the Great Firewall of China, you come to expect this country being the number 1 most censored country in the world. The internet in China is drastically different than in anywhere else. The Chinese government not only blocks any website that opposes the communist regime, but also any site that promotes what they call a “Western” mentality. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter are all blocked in Mainland China for fear of introducing a more globalized mentality into the nation. VoIP apps, like WhatsApp and Skype, are also blocked by the government to make it easier to monitor their citizens’ communications. The country regularly jails, executes and bans activists, bloggers, and journalists that oppose the regime. Websites dealing with human rights organizations are, of course, inaccessible on the Chinese internet.
To add to all of that, the Chinese Firewall has also effectively blocked the common tools people use to bypass these restrictions. Proxies and VPNs are, for the most part, inaccessible within the country. So much so that Chinese developers had to create an entirely new tool to bypass these censorships without being caught.
Even though Syria has yet to implement a country-wide firewall like China, it still ranks as the 2nd worst internet in the world. The Syrian Government and the Islamic State both monitor online communications, social media, blogs, and traffic in general. Same as with the rest of this list, websites dealing with human rights organizations, political activism, and any kind of anti-government sensibilities are inaccessible within the country.
To add to this, the Syrian Government regularly cuts off access to the internet entirely. On the other hand, areas under the control of the Islamic State don’t fare much better. Same as with the Syrian Regime, the IS also restricts access to the internet based on military developments. Syria’s telecommunications’ infrastructure is the worst in the Middle East and continues to worsen as the war rages on.
Ethiopia isn’t a country many people would expect to rank this high on the list of countries with the worst internet censorship in 2018. Censorship in Ethiopia is based on a lack of access to the internet more than on blocking and filtering.
The government heavily monitors the internet thanks to having only one ISP for all of Ethiopia. The government regularly monitors and surveils its citizens’ communications, including their personal emails. It also bans any website that has oppositional views towards the ruling party. Same as with the other countries on this list, Ethiopia restricts access to human rights organizations and international digital rights sites.
The Ethiopian government also uses a keyword ban while selecting which sites to block. This means that sometimes harmless non-political websites get caught up in the censorship as well. As such, there is no way of knowing which websites are blocked at any given moment. The Ethiopian government has not released an official list of inaccessible websites to this date.
Even though Iran landed on number 4 in our list, it is important to note that the censorship laws in the country have improved recently. This improvement is based on the rise in internet availability and speeds the republic witnessed in the past 2 years. Despite that, Iran still heavily censors its internet. In fact, Iran encourages its citizens to use the heavily monitored National Internet Network, SHOMA, through various means.
One way the government encourages the use of this intranet is through making it more affordable. Iranians have to pay extra to use the global internet while still dealing with the restrictions and regulations imposed by the government.
On top of blocking websites related to human rights organizations and online activism, social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are blocked in Iran. Telegram and Instagram have a large presence within the Iranian ecosystem, and as such are heavily monitored. VPNs are very popular tools for Iranians, but even their access can sometimes be restricted.
Cuba is the least connected country in Latin America. In fact, mobile internet only recently became available for a select few Cubans. To date, home connections are still rare across the island, either due to lack of connection approval by the government or because of how expensive such a connection is.
The Cuban government does monitor and filter content online, especially ones related to government dissent and anti-communist ideas. However, the main reason Cuba ranks as the 5th worst country for internet censorship in 2023 is the lack of internet access in the country. Mobile and home internet access is rare, as only citizens with governmental approval get access to these services. The Cuban government forces its citizens to use the easily monitored intranet instead. Even that service, however, amounts to almost 10% of the average monthly wage in Cuba for an hour’s worth of connectivity.
Uzbekistan, while still very restrictive on internet connection and access, may be heading towards reformations with respect to censorship.
Despite that, the country still ranks as one of the top 10 worst countries with internet censorship in 2023. The Uzbek authorities restrict access to content that opposes the reigning political party. Websites dealing with social issues in Uzbekistan are also heavily filtered and restricted. While social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are not banned in the country, the government heavily promotes the use of their Uzbek counterparts instead. Large-scale filtering and monitoring on social media pages have imposed a self-censoring attitude with most internet users in Uzbekistan.
Vietnam saw great improvements in the availability of the internet over the past few years. Despite that, the environment of censorship, content filtering, and communication monitoring still put Vietnam as the 7th country on this list. Vietnam regularly blocks social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram without explanation.
Content with anti-government sentiments is continuously unavailable within the country. What’s most interesting about Vietnam’s regulations, however, is the prominent focus on restricting social content as well as political ones. This fosters an environment of self-censorship between journalists, bloggers, and social media users as a whole.
Saudi Arabia follows a more restrictive internet environment than a banned one. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are available in the SA. However, the government heavily regulates the content on these platforms. Journalists, bloggers, and citizens alike practice strict self-censorship when it comes to politics, religion, and the royal family. VoIP services are blocked within the country, although the reasoning for those blocks is more geared towards the monopolization of telecommunications than anything else.
Saudi Arabia regularly blocks websites that it deems harmful, illegal, anti-Islamic, and offensive. Sites distributing copyrighted materials, like the Pirate Bay, are also inaccessible. Saudi Arabia’s ISPs also ban websites and social media pages that discuss human rights and oppositional political organizations. Despite all that, Saudi Arabian authorities are very transparent when it comes to blocked content and websites. Many internet users in Saudi Arabia resort to VPNs to access the global internet, even though only top-tier VPNs are able to bypass the country’s restrictions. Saudi Arabia does block Tor, though.
In 2016, Pakistan adopted the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, which broadened the government’s ability to imprison Pakistani internet users for criticisms of the country’s judicial system, military, and of Islam in general. Social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, regularly face bans based on the above criteria. The country regularly monitors reports on oppositional protests, so much so that many peaceful protests have found a lack of media coverage entirely.
The Government frequently disables mobile internet across the country and has does not provide access to the internet in many rural and western Pakistani areas. Sites belonging to oppositional political parties within Pakistan are also regularly blocked, with no explanation offered as to why these blocks are enforced. Following a series of independent blogger arrests, journalists, bloggers, and citizens alike started following strict self-censoring practices. This is most apparent with topics related to social justice, political opposition, or anti-Islamic sentiment.
Bahrain may boast some of the best internet penetration and speeds in the world, but the government has made huge strides to repress dissent online. Websites and content that favor the Shiite minority leaders and political parties are regularly subject to filters and bans. The government also periodically filters and bans websites and content favorable of the Shiite minority and its leaders. In fact, access to the internet in its entirety was non-existent in the Shiite town of Diraz, which still deals with an Internet Curfew to this day.
The Bahraini government continuously blocks websites and social media platforms of oppositional parties. News outlets must get approval from Bahrain’s mass media directorate in order to share news on their websites and social media pages. The good news is that VPNs and proxies are still readily available for use in Bahrain, as the government has been unable to enforce a firewall strong enough to block these tools.
Here are the countries that didn’t make the top 10 but deserve to mentioned either way:
- United Arabic Emirates
The Top 10 Countries with the Worst Internet Censorship in 2023- Final Thoughts
There you have it, the 10 worst countries for Internet Censorship in 2023. Note that North Korea is not available on this list because of its alienation from the rest of the world. Otherwise, it would rank as the number 1 worst country for the internet in general. As always, if you’re planning on moving to any of these countries, we suggest you take the precautions necessary to secure your safety and privacy online. You can use a credible VPN service provider, like ExpressVPN, to help you circumvent the restrictions you find in those countries. You’ll also be able to bypass the surveillance and monitoring practices of the governments mentioned above.