North Korea, Eritrea and Turkmenistan are named as the three countries in the world where there is virtually no freedom of expression in a newly-released annual study. They occupy the bottom three places on the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index (which dubs the trio “black holes” for news, where independent media does not exist).
Other countries near the bottom of the list of 167 include China, Iran, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia. “Liberated” Iraq is ranked 157, with RWB noting that 72 reporters and media workers have been killed there since the war started.
Turkmenistan’s megalomaniacal leader Saparmurat “Turkmenbashi” Niyazov runs one of the most hermetically-sealed dictatorships on the planet, but this hasn’t prevented the State Department and Pentagon from sending several high-level delegations in recent years to schmooze the despot for pipeline rights across his oil-rich and strategically-placed country.
Eritrea has used the ongoing tensions and proxy war with Ethiopia as an excuse to crack down on labor and press freedoms. The US has much closer military ties to Ethiopia (131 on RWF’s list), but is characteristically hedging its bets. In December 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld flew to Eritrea to meet with President Isaias Afwerki, becoming the highest-ranking US official to do so since Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Immediately after 9-11, Afwerki unleashed a purge, imprisoning several journalists, students and dissidents, accusing them of being al-Qaeda or Ethiopian agents (despite the fact that Eritrea is majority-Muslim and Ethiopia is majority-Christian). (Frank Smyth in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 15, 2002)