Transnational Repression: Authoritarian tactics to silence dissent across borders #Forum2000online

August 4, 2022

Jamal Khashoggi was a prominent Saudi journalist. He was murdered and dismembered in the consulate in Istanbul while his fiancée waited outside for him to emerge. This, among many others, is an example of transnational repression, one of the most dangerous and constant threats faced by dissidents in exile.

In this week’s #Forum2000online Chat, Yana Gorokhovskaia, senior research analyst at Freedom House and a coauthor of “Defending Democracy in Exile”, joined Hasler Iglesias, Venezuelan democracy activist and member of the National Committee of Voluntad Popular, to talk about the findings of the report on transnational repression published last June.

“[…]the plight of people who are being targeted by authoritarian states is not just theirs alone. It endangers the quality of our freedoms and rights and also threatens our institutions and threatens national security”, says Ms. Gorokhovskaia.

According to Yana Gorokhovskaia, you will learn that:

  • Transnational repression is a set of wide universe of tactics that governments use to reach across borders in order to silence dissent. It can take the form of physical tactics (assassinations, detentions, assaults, kidnappings, etc.) or non- physical or indirect tactics (pressure on family members, harassment online, etc.). Authoritarian regimes need to silence those who would speak out against them, not only inside their own borders but increasingly outside of their borders.
  • To silence dissent is effective in a lot of cases, especially when it comes to people's family members.
  • Potential targets do not travel or only travel to a few places in the world because they are worried about being kidnapped.
  • The people who are being targeted do not have access to any special government, military or scientific information. They are being targeted not because it would give some kind of advantage to the targeting state in the classic kind of cold war espionage situation. They are being targeted because they are speaking out for fundamental human rights.
  • There are people who continue their activism in spite of being targeted. There are mitigation measures that involve digital hygiene (not sharing location or information about immediate family, being careful with devices). Some companies offer technological solutions to people who need protection.
  • Fighting transnational repression requires mitigating harassment and actions against dissidents and preventing or deterring authoritarian states from applying their tactics. Sanctions, visa bans, and looking at diplomatic staff that is stationed in a country to make sure that they are not perpetrating transnational repression are useful measures. Another strong signal is limiting security and financial assistance to governments that engage in transnational repression.
  • Sometimes democratic governments reject people who are seeking asylum. This is a practice that puts them in danger because potential targets are less safe in non-democratic countries.
  • In a globalized world, what happens within authoritarian states in their own territories is not limited to just that territory. It extends far beyond.
  • Transnational repression endangers the quality of our freedoms and rights and also threatens our institutions and national security. This is an issue for all of us, whether or not we are living in exile and whether or not we ourselves come from an authoritarian state.

The interview was recorded on July 27, 2022.

Read and download the report “Defending Democracy in Exile” here.