Asia's Worst Dictators

Over the past couple of years, many of the world's dictators have died or been deposed. Some are new to the scene, while others have been holding on to power for more than a decade.

Kim Jong-un

Mike Pompeo, Kim Jong-un, March 2018. 

His father, Kim Jong-il, died in December of 2011, and youngest son Kim Jong-un took over the reins in North Korea. Some observers hoped that the younger Kim, who was educated in Switzerland, might make a break from his dad's paranoid, nuclear-weapons-brandishing style of leadership, but so far he seems to be a chip off the old block.

Among Kim Jong-un's "accomplishments" thus far are the bombarding of Yeonpyeong, South Korea; the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors; and the continuation of his father's political labor camps, believed to hold as many as 200,000 unfortunate souls.

Kim the younger also showed a bit of sadistic creativity in his punishment of a North Korean official accused of drinking alcohol during the official mourning period for Kim Jong-il. According to media reports, the official was executed by mortar round.

Bashar al-Assad

President of the Syrian Arab Republic Bashar Assad during talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, 17 May 2018. (CC by 4.0

Bashar al-Assad took over the presidency of Syria in 2000 when his father died after a 30-year-long reign. Touted as "The Hope," the younger al-Assad has turned out to be anything but a reformer.

He ran unopposed in the 2007 presidential election, and his secret police force (the Mukhabarat) has routinely disappeared, tortured, and killed political activists. Since January of 2011, the Syrian Army and security services have been using tanks and rockets against members of the Syrian opposition as well as ordinary civilians.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran -- United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 21 June 2012.

Marcello Casal, Jr., Agência Brasil//Wikimedia Commons (CC by 3.0BR)

It's not entirely clear whether President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini should be listed here as the dictator of Iran, but between the two of them, they are certainly oppressing the people of one of the world's oldest civilizations. Ahmadinejad almost certainly stole the 2009 presidential elections, and then crushed the protestors who came out on the street in the abortive Green Revolution. Between 40 and 70 people were killed, and about 4,000 arrested for protesting the rigged election results.

Under Ahmadinejad's rule, according to Human Rights Watch, "Respect for basic human rights in Iran, especially freedom of expression and assembly, deteriorated in 2006. The government routinely tortures and mistreats detained dissidents, including through prolonged solitary confinement." Opponents of the government face harassment from the thuggish Basij militia, as well as the secret police. Torture and mistreatment are routine for political prisoners, especially in the horrific Evin Prison near Tehran.

Nursultan Nazarbayev

Nursultan Nazarbayev, 2009.

Ricardo Stuckert, Agência Brasil/Wikimedia Commons (CC by 3.0BR)

Nursultan Nazarbayev has served as the first and only president of Kazakhstan since 1990. The Central Asian nation became independent of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Throughout his reign, Nazarbayev has been accused of corruption and human rights abuses. His personal bank accounts hold more than $1 billion US. According to reports by Amnesty International and the US State Department, Nazarbayev's political opponents often end up in prison, under terrible conditions, or even shot dead out in the desert. Human trafficking is rampant in the country, as well.

President Nazarbayev has to approve any changes to the Constitution of Kazakhstan. He personally controls the judiciary, the military, and the internal security forces. A 2011 New York Times article alleged that the government of Kazakhstan paid American think tanks to put out "glowing reports about the country."

The aging Nazarbayev may (or may not) release his grip on power any time soon.

Islam Karimov

Islam Karimov has ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist since the Soviet era.
Islam Karimov, Uzbek dictator. Getty Images

Like Nursultan Nazarbayev in neighboring Kazakhstan, Islam Karimov has been ruling Uzbekistan since before its independence from the Soviet Union - and he seems to share Joseph Stalin's style of rule. His term of office was supposed to have been up in 1996, but the people of Uzbekistan generously agreed to let him continue as president by a 99.6% "yes" vote.

Since then, Karimov has graciously allowed himself to be re-elected in 2000, 2007, and again in 2012, in defiance of Uzbekistan's Constitution. Given his penchant for boiling dissidents alive, it's little wonder that few people dare protest. Still, incidents like the Andijan Massacre must have made him less than beloved among some of the Uzbek populace.

Karimov, who died 2 September 2016, of multiple organ failure secondary to a severe stroke, ending a decades-long, ruthless rule, was succeeded by Shavkat Mirziyoyev.


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Szczepanski, Kallie. "Asia's Worst Dictators." ThoughtCo, Oct. 18, 2021, Szczepanski, Kallie. (2021, October 18). Asia's Worst Dictators. Retrieved from Szczepanski, Kallie. "Asia's Worst Dictators." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).