If you’ve lived in the same country your entire life, it can be easy to forget that not all countries abide by the same laws. But laws differ from country to country for lots of different reasons. While some laws are shaped by a county’s history and its politics, some are shaped by a country’s culture and religion. The laws in some countries, however, are so strict that it’s hard to accept that they’re even real. From laws that make chewing gum illegal to death sentences for protesting, here are some countries that have the strictest laws in the world. The U.S. student who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea will make you cry.
In Iran, laws are not based on philosophical beliefs but instead are structured around Shariah or Islamic Law. Because of this, there are many laws that have been put in place that make Iran an extremely patriarchal society. The country is very conservative and women, in particular, must adhere to a somewhat strict dress code. For example, women must wear hijabs at all times to cover their hair, skinny jeans are forbidden, and coats or tunics are expected to cover your rear end.
In Iran, a woman’s testimony is only worth half that of a man since it is in compliance with the Sharia basis of the legal system. This was seen in October 2014 when Reyhaneh Jabari was hanged at the age of 26 for stabbing her would-be rapist. The government refused to investigate her claims that she acted in self-defense and was sentenced to death.
Eritrea is located in the Horn of Africa, and the country has been living under the strict censorship laws of President Isaias Afewerki since 1993. In Eritrea, the government has full control over the news and the media in the country. Everything that is aired, broadcasted, or published must be approved by the Presidents Office. Furthermore, religion is also controlled and public worship is forbidden. Citizens must apply as a member of a particular religion before they are allowed to legally practice their faith. Due to the strict censorship and lack of religious freedom, many try to flee the country and are arrested and imprisoned.
Due to the conflict between the Syrian government and the rebels within the country, the Syrian regime has resorted to a communication blackout. The government has almost completely banned the use of technology and social media. Cell phones and computers are very rare to find and all publications must be approved by the government before released to the public. Foreign journalists are also not allowed into the country, so it is hard to get an unbiased glimpse as to what is going on. Speaking ill of the Syrian government can lead to harsh punishments such as imprisonment, torture, and potentially even death. It is even suspected that the Syrian government conducted chemical attacks on their own civilians in April 2017.
In Malaysia, when it comes to drugs and drug trafficking, they take their laws and punishments very seriously. In the country, there is a mandatory death penalty for anyone that is caught with more than seven ounces of marijuana, or half an ounce of heroin. Having these kinds of amounts labels you as a drug trafficker in many of the Southeast Asian countries which is a title you do not want to have. Having any fewer amounts of such substances will result in penalties such as expensive fines, or lengthy prison sentences. These laws apply to anyone regardless of nationality as three Uzbekistan nationals were sentenced to death in 2013.
In Equatorial Guinea, the government publicly discourages the people from learning to read or write. They do this in order to the public from learning as little as possible about the rest of the world and better opportunities. There are no bookstores or newsstands and very rarely are tourists ever allowed into the country. When they are, they are under constant watch by the government and are forbidden to document the poverty of the country. Even though the government owns the television and radio stations, it makes no difference because the people of the country are so poor that nobody can afford either even if they wanted.
In North Korea, television, radio, and print are all censored by the government. Internet access is a privilege given only to the elite and even their online usage is monitored. You are not allowed to loiter in parks, you must be able to validate your every move, pre-marital sex is prohibited, and there is a strict fashion code in which women are not allowed to wear pants and men must cut their hair every two weeks. Escorts accompany tourists to make sure they don’t break any rules. In 2016, American student Otto Warmbier was arrested for trying to steal a piece of propaganda from his hotel room and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. However, when he was finally returned home, it appeared that he may have been tortured and died days after returning to the US. He had been detained for 17 months in North Korea.
While North Korea is the only true Communist country in the world, Cuba is similar in many ways.
For the most part, Cuba is still considered to be a mostly Communist country as the citizens still must adhere to rather strict laws. Currently, anyone that speaks out against the government or makes actions towards reform can be immediately jailed and punished. There are no public demonstrations allowed and Cubans can’t access the internet from their homes or cellphones. In addition, citizens cannot live in Havana without a permit, there are no political parties, they cannot invest in medium and large enterprises, and there are only a select amount of professions permitted by the government for self-employment.
In Saudi Arabia, much like Iran, the Muslim faith helps dictate the country’s laws, especially when regarding women. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to be seen in public with a man that isn’t someone in their family. Furthermore, they must follow a strict dress code based on the Muslim faith and the punishment for breaking any of these religious laws male or female can be seen as harsh by some. Above most other laws, participating in protests is highly forbidden and punishable by death. In September 2017, the country said it will now allow women to drive, which is a small step in lessening the oppression of Saudi women. The next U.S. woman was arrested in Japan for trying to take her prescription medicine.
The Japanese government certainly has some rather silly laws as well that they use to govern the citizens of its country. For example, you can spend up to a year in prison for damaging or throwing away money. However, make no mistake, Japan has some of the harshest drug laws in the world. There is a zero-tolerance policy in Japan for Japanese citizens, as well as foreigners that are caught using, growing, possessing, or distributing illegal drugs. Those convicted can find themselves facing years in a Japanese prison or worse. In 2015, 26-year-old American Carrie Russel was arrested on drug smuggling charges in Japan after her mother mailed her a refill of her Adderall prescription. She spent 18 days in a detention center in Nagoya.
Vietnam also has some of the most strict drug trafficking laws in the world. Anyone that is caught violating a law surrounding drug use is sent to the Vietnamese interpretation of a rehabilitation center. Here, at a Vietnamese rehabilitation center, the convicted are not necessarily treated for their drug use or criminal tendencies, but instead, drug addicts and drug traffickers are tortured, beaten, and forced into hard manual labor for their drug offenses. It is assumed that this will to help rehabilitate them from their addiction, teach them a lesson, as well as give warning to the other Vietnamese citizens.
Indonesia has particularly harsh drug laws and punishments as well. If you are the parent of a child who is using drugs, and you fail to turn them in, you as the parent could face charges too. In Indonesia, you can be sentenced to death for narcotics trafficking and up to 20 years in prison such for marijuana offenses. Simple possession of Group 1 drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy can result in four to 12 years in prison. In 2005, Australian Schapelle Corby was found with nine pounds of cannabis in her bodyboard bag and was released in 2014 after serving nine years of her 20-year sentence in prison. The next country has the highest number of executions in the world.
In China, going against the government, producing anti-government propaganda, or participating in protests is taken extremely seriously. Today, China still holds the record for the highest number of executions in the world, more than all of the other countries combined. It is estimated that around 2,400 individuals were executed in 2014, which is nothing compared to the 10,000 executed in 2003. Among the many things that are illegal, it is a crime to put Western ideas into the minds of the Chinese youth, the media is controlled, and so is access to the internet. It is highly illegal to discuss rebellion, change, reform, and all those that do may not be around for much longer.
In Singapore, the government has implemented many rules and regulations followed with harsh consequences, which may be what makes Singapore have such a higher standard of living than most places on earth. On the streets of Singapore, chewing gum is banned, spitting comes with a hefty fine, smoking in public will get you into serious trouble with the law, and even wearing the wrong clothes while in public can get you thrown in jail. The Singapore police are allowed to perform random drug tests on both locals and tourists and you don’t want to get caught vandalizing or you will be caned. In 1994, American student Michael Fay was sentenced to four months in jail and six strokes with a half-inch-thick rattan cane after being caught vandalizing vehicles which received worldwide attention.
In Sudan, women are forbidden to wear trousers, much like in North Korea. To do otherwise is a serious offense against sharia law and can result in physical punishment. In 2014, nine women were faced with the potential of 40 lashes for the crime of wearing what was described as western-style pants. This was only on a specific example, as punishments such as this are carried out in the name of sharia law each day. Although women are usually at the wrong end of indecency punishments, men are not safe either. In 2010, seven men who were models at a fashion show were convicted of indecency and were even fined for wearing makeup.
Although Lebanon is considered to be one of the more liberal countries in the Middle East, it is still a serious offense to insult religions and religious sects. To insult a particular religion, it can lead up to a prison sentence of three years. these laws were passed to help ensure the co-existence of the 18 religious sects coexisting within the same country. Furthermore, insulting the president is also punishable up to three years in prison as well. Not too long ago, three people were arrested due to slandering the president on Facebook. They were discovered, arrested, and received jail sentences, yet were luckily released after a few months.
In Yemen, in 1992, an act was passed that states, “A wife must permit [her husband] to have legitimate intercourse with her when she is fit to do so.” There is no age limit to this act, and fourteen percent of girls in Yemen are married before they are 15 years old. It is therefore not uncommon in Yemen for young girls and women to be assaulted and even sometimes killed by their husbands due to marital rape. Currently, there have been efforts to change the legal marriage age to 18, yet marital rape is still a big issue at the moment.
Dubai’s drug possession policy can be seen as extremely harsh to some. Although it may not lead to execution like in some countries, you still don’t want to end up in a Dubai prison for drugs. Possession in Dubai doesn’t just mean having it on your person, but it can even be in your bloodstream. In Dubai, all painkillers and even poppy seeds are extremely illegal and even having them in your system upon arrival into the country can lead to imprisonment. However, although they typically release foreigners before serving their full sentence for drug possession, you can still spend up to a year in one of their prisons while locals aren’t so lucky.
in Zimbabwe, it is a serious offense to insult President Robert Mugabe. Zimbabweans are constantly being arrested and fined for undermining the authority of the president. One example of this was a salesman that was held in jail from April until July after he was discovered to have satirical cartoons of the president on his cellphone. One of them, in particular, was a picture of Mugabe naked and sitting on his haunches. Luckily for the man, after only two months of imprisonment, he was released and his charges were dropped due to a legal technicality. Others are sentenced and convicted of much worse.
In Pakistan, it is punishable by death if you are convicted of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. In this case, insulting even means not believing or practicing another religion. It is assumed by some that such laws have been put in place to persecute the Christians in the country or as an excuse to commit violent acts against them. This is believed to be so because, in 2012, a Christian girl and her mother were attested when a mob surrounded her home in Islamabad and demanded an investigation to prove that she had burned pages of the Quran. Even though they survived harsh punishment and were cleared of blasphemy, they would never be able to return home for fear of their lives from vigilantes. This is only one case out of the countless that have occurred.
Middle East Eye
In Morroco, there are strict laws regarding sex and sexuality. There is no homosexuality allowed and sexual relations outside of marriage is punishable by law. Other strict laws say that you are not allowed to have a Bible in Arabic or attempt to distribute no-Muslim evangelical literature anywhere. Furthermore, you are required to have a license to fly a drone, money cannot be traded outside of the country, and it is definitely illegal to insult the monarchy which can result in prison time. However, what they are most harsh on by far is drug possession. In Morrocco, if you are caught with drugs or associating with someone who possed them, if you know them or not you can face up to 10 years in jail. Although the country itself benefits from the drug industry, illegal drugs are a serious offense here.