North Korea crowned worst in the world for freedom of expression
North Korea is frequently cited in multiple international indices as the worst performing country in the world in regards to respect for media freedom. In its Freedom of the Press 2017 report, Freedom House ranked North Korea as the worst of the worst in its "not free" category. Similarly, Reporters without Borders' annual World Press Freedom Index ranked North Korea in last place out of 180 assessed countries. The reasons behind this dismal record are many, including the fact that the state tightly controls online and print media and closely monitors international phone calls and communications. North Koreans can face severe repercussions for even attempting to access non-state sanctioned or foreign media. The state-controlled Korean Central News Agency represents the only official source of news and information for North Koreans. Though a few foreign news bureaus have been allowed to operate in North Korea, the information they release is tightly controlled and domestic media are stifled and almost non-existent.
In recent years, North Koreans have had greater access to mobile phones; however, reports also note that authorities have increased surveillance over telecommunications, thereby inhibiting citizens' from fully exercising their right to freedom of speech.
Widely known as one of the most repressive states in the world, critics of the regime and dissidents face serious consequences for voicing their opinions or organising like-minded citizens around political, social or economic issues. The consequences for civic engagement and political activism can include sentencing to prison or labour camps.
In a recent report, the Asan Institute for Policy Studies detailed the dire conditions faced by inmates in labour camps, or re-education centres where many political prisoners are held. The report noted that the conditions are so bad that the fatality rate is close to 25 percent, meaning that one in four prisoners held by authorities will die in detention.
UN officials estimate that between 80,000 and 120,000 people accused of political offences or dissent are currently being held in prison camps.