Freedom House recently published a report on transnational repression called Defending Democracy in Exile. It’s recommended reading for anyone concerned about democracy and human rights. Transnational repression occurs at the intersection between immigration, foreign policy, and authoritarian despots. People who live in free countries naively believe authoritarian governance is contained within other countries. However, autocrats extend their influence into other countries including the United States. They continue to repress dissidents after they flee their homes.
Perhaps the most well known incident of transnational repression involves the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. His death raised awareness, because of his wide profile as a journalist. However, Freedom House’s report shows this is not an isolated incident. Their report identifies 735 unique cases of transnational repression in 84 different countries. They identify 36 different countries engaged in some form of transnational repression. Common tactics include family intimidation, digital surveillance, and mobility controls. More dramatic forms include Interpol abuse and even assassination.
Here’s another example. During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina saved 1,268 people. The film “Hotel Rwanda” made him an international celebrity. Since then Rusesabagina has criticized the abuses of President Paul Kagame and his government in Rwanda. He has lived abroad for many years, afraid to return to Rwanda. But on August 31st he boarded a plane destined for Burundi that took him to Rwanda instead. The Rwandan government admits it “tricked” Rusesabagina in a “flawless operation.” He is now facing trumped up charges of terrorism, arson, and murder.
Transnational repression is not new. A Soviet Agent assassinated Leon Trotsky in 1940 in Mexico City. Additional examples exist throughout history. Still, the globalization and digitization of the economy and society has made transnational repression easier than ever before. It endangers the lives and well-being of refugees we promised to protect. Check out the report Defending Democracy in Exile here.