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Police state

A police state is a government that exercises power arbitrarily through the power of the police force. Originally, a police state was a state regulated by a civil administration, but since the beginning of the 20th century it has "taken on an emotional and derogatory meaning" by describing an undesirable state of living characterized by the overbearing presence of the civil authorities. The inhabitants of a police state may experience restrictions on their mobility, or on their freedom to express or communicate political or other views, which are subject to police monitoring or enforcement. Political control may be exerted by means of a secret police force that operates outside the boundaries normally imposed by a constitutional state. Robert von Mohl, who first introduced the rule of law to German jurisprudence, contrasted the Rechtsstaat ("legal" or "constitutional" state) with the anti-aristocratic Polizeistaat ("police state").

History of usage

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the phrase "police state" back to 1851, when it was used in reference to the use of a national police force to maintain order in the Austrian Empire. The German term Polizeistaat came into English usage in the 1930s with reference to totalitarian governments that had begun to emerge in Europe.

Because there are different political perspectives as to what an appropriate balance is between individual freedom and national security, there are no objective standards defining a police state. This concept can be viewed as a balance or scale. Along this spectrum, any law that has the effect of removing liberty is seen as moving towards a police state while any law that limits government oversight of the populace is seen as moving towards a free state.

An electronic police state is one in which the government aggressively uses electronic technologies to record, organize, search and distribute forensic evidence against its citizens.

Examples of states with related attributes

Henry VIII's Tudor England operated as a police state. The Oprichnina established by Ivan IV within the Tsardom of Russia in 1565 functioned as a police state, featuring persecutions and autocratic rule.

In Iran, during the reign of the Shah Reza Shah Pahlavi from 1925 to 1941, there was an increased police presence who arrested and tortured many people who were against his rule. Police presence and surveillance increased even more under the rule of Reza Shah's son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, from 1941 to 1979, with the creation of the SAVAK secret police. They were seen positioned on every street corner, were fiercely loyal to the Shah's rule, and arrested and tortured many people; this reign also saw a sharp increase in political prisoners. Public anger and mass uprisings against the Shah led to the Iranian Revolution in 1979 led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which resulted in the overthrow of the Shah's reign and thus the abolishing of the Iranian monarchy and the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, ending the over-2,500-year history of the monarchy. Police presence once again increased and worsened drastically with the creation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, in particular the morality police, the Basij militia, who forcefully uphold Islamic law on civilians.

Nazi Germany emerged from originally the democratic government, yet gradually exerted more and more repressive controls over its people in the lead-up to World War II. In addition to the SS and the Gestapo, the Nazi police state used the judiciary to assert control over the population from the 1930s until the end of the war in 1945.

During the period of apartheid, South Africa maintained police-state attributes such as banning people and organizations, arresting political prisoners, maintaining segregated living communities and restricting movement and access.

Augusto Pinochet's Chile operated as a police state, exhibiting "repression of public liberties, the elimination of political exchange, limiting freedom of speech, abolishing the right to strike, freezing wages".

The Republic of Cuba under president (and later right-wing dictator) Fulgencio Batista was an authoritarian police state during his rule. Police influence increased following his overthrow during the Cuban Revolution in 1959 with the rise to power of Fidel Castro and his communist regime.

Tunisia under president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was considered one of the most repressive police states in the world. At one point, 70-80% of the adult population were government informants. Police bribing and power abuse were (and even after the revolution are) very common.

The region of modern-day North Korea has long had elements of a police state, from the Juche-style Silla kingdom, to the imposition of a fascist police state by the Japanese, to the totalitarian police state imposed and maintained by the Kim family. Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has ranked North Korea last or second last in their test of press freedom since the Press Freedom Index's introduction, stating that the ruling Kim family control all of the media.

In response to government proposals to enact new security measures to curb protests, the government of the AK Party has been accused of turning Turkey into a police state.

Since the 2013 Egyptian coup d'état, the military government of Egypt has taken dramatic steps to crack down on freedom of religion and expression, leading to accusations that it has effectively become a "Revolutionary Police State".

Fictional police states



Fictional police states have featured in media ranging from novels to films to video games. George Orwell's 1984 has been described as "the definitive fictional treatment of a police state, which has also influenced contemporary usage of the term".