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Autocrats are more and more suppressing dissent past their very own borders

Dissidents and human rights activists are increasingly facing a cross-border struggle of threats and violence from the very authoritarian regimes they are trying to escape. This emerges from a new report by Freedom House, which describes the "immense scope" and normalization of cross-border oppression.

The report found that 31 countries – including China, Saudia Arabia and Russia – carried out attacks against victims in 79 host countries, resulting in total attacks Six years of more than 600 cases of transnational repression: When governments go beyond their borders to suppress dissent. More than two dozen have been assassinations or assassinations since 2016. A total of around 3.5 million people worldwide are affected by these attempts of coercion and intimidation.

The biggest culprits? China, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia and Turkey.

Although countries use different methods, the four categories of transnational oppression that Freedom House examined were direct attacks in which other countries were co-opted through mobility controls Restrict traveland remote threats. With the development of digital technologies such as social media and spyware, the ability to suppress across national borders has increased over time.

According to the report, countries typically invoke terrorism as a justification for cross-border repression. According to the report, the target was accused of terrorism in 58 percent of the documented cases. That high percentage "really speaks for how terrorism allegations are like the trump card," said Nate Schenkkan, director of research strategy at Freedom House. "If you really want to tell other states to withdraw, terrorism is your number one game."

Here are some of the worst offenders, according to Freedom House.


According to the report, China's campaign of transnational repression is one of the most sophisticated in the world. Through cyberattacks, espionage and other threats, Beijing has launched a widespread campaign targeting ethnic minorities and dissidents, particularly in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. In particular, in 2015, the Chinese Communist Party kidnapped Gui Minhai, a bookseller in Hong Kong, while on vacation in Thailand. Gui, a Swedish national, confessed to an alleged accident involving a drunk driver and waived his Swedish citizenship while in detention – statements his supporters claimed forced.

China's transnational oppression has also reached the United States. In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice accused eight people of conspiring to be illegal agents of China and forced U.S. citizens to return to China. "The Chinese government's brazen attempts to monitor, threaten and harass our own citizens and rightful permanent residents on American soil are part of China's diverse campaign against theft and evil influence in our country and around the world." said Christopher Wray, director of the FBI.


In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame has tried to silence dissidents abroad since he came to power in the 1990s. Perhaps most terribly, Rwandan officials kidnapped Paul Rusesabagina, the film's politician and hero, in September 2020 Hotel Rwanda who has since been a vocal critic of the Kagame regime from the United Arab Emirates.

Kagame has refused Allegations of kidnapping, but failed to provide a coherent account of how Rusesabagina returned to Rwanda and he did According to reports was denied access to his family's lawyer. In January rusesabagina told Foreign policy that his movements were closely monitored and that he received physical threats from government officials after denouncing Kagame's policies.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia hit the headlines when it allegedly murdered noted journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. However, according to the Freedom House report, Khashoggi wasn't the kingdom's only alleged target. To silence dissidents in the Middle East, Europe, North America and Asia, the Saudi government has deployed a system of spyware, incarceration, intimidation and other related attacks. In 2018, the Saudi government was arrested and detained Loujain al-Hathloul, a well-known women's rights activist and human rights defender, spent 70 days in the United Arab Emirates, where she was studying.


According to Freedom House, transnational oppression in Iran is directed against anyone they see as a "threat to the Islamic Republic". The regime regards dissidents not only as terrorists but also as journalists. "In January 2020, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) counted 200 Iranian journalists living abroad who had been threatened, including 50 who had received death threats."


Russia wants to ensure that information from exiled activists "does not reach the domestic audience," the report said. And – despite direct attacks on dissidents such as opposition leader Alexei Navalny – Moscow uses middlemen. According to the report, the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, has helped to promote a “campaign to control the Chechen diaspora”.

Freedom House describes Kadyrov's campaign as an example of "a subnational regime waging its own transnational repression campaign". The international survey by Freedom House found that since 2014 "the Russian campaign accounts for 7 out of 26 assassinations or attacks" and 20 of the 32 "documented physical cases of Russian transnational repression" have a Chechen connection.


Since the attempted coup in July 2016, "the regime has persecuted its perceived enemies in at least 31 different host countries spread across America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia," the report said. Before 2016, Turkey “did not carry out extensive transnational repression activities,” the report said.

There is a large "dependency on rendition" in Turkey's transnational repression campaign, the report said. Freedom House has identified 58 renditions in Turkey since 2014: "It has been found that no other perpetrator State has carried out such a large number of renditions from so many host countries during the reporting period – and the documented amount is almost certainly an undercount."

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