Report Shows How Governments Reach Beyond Their Borders to Crush Dissent

Human Rights Watch examines how repressive governments use harassment, surveillance, and assassination to target dissidents.

By Jake Johnson. Published 2-22-2024 by Common Dreams

Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: Kremlin/Wikimedia Commons

report published Thursday by Human Rights Watch details how governments around the world relentlessly target dissidents, journalists, and others beyond their borders, resorting to threats, harassment, and even abduction and assassination to silence those perceived as threats.

“Transnational repression looks different depending on the context,” notes the new report. “Recent cases include a Rwandan refugee who was killed in Uganda following threats from the Rwandan government; a Cambodian refugee in Thailand only to be extradited to Cambodia and summarily detained; and a Belarusian activist who was abducted while aboard a commercial airline flight. Transnational repression may mean that a person’s family members who remain at home become targets of collective punishment, such as the Tajik activist whose family in Tajikistan, including his 10-year-old daughter, was detained, interrogated, and threatened.”

The report—titled “We Will Find You”: Global Look at How Governments Repress Nationals Abroad—also highlights the well-known case of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist and dissident who was violently murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, “approved” the operation. Khashoggi’s remains were never found.

The Saudi regime, an ally of the U.S., uses a number of tactics to silence dissidents, the new report notes, pointing to the targeting of family members of government critics, arbitrary arrests and disappearances, and surveillance.

In total, the report examines more than 75 cases of transnational repression committed by over two dozen governments.

“Governments responsible for transnational repression should be on notice that their efforts to silence critics, threaten human rights defenders, and target people based on their identity are no less problematic abroad than they are at home,” the report states.

The new report comes after the United Kingdom’s High Court held two days of hearings on whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange—an Australian national who has spent the past five years in a high-security London prison—can appeal his extradition to the United States.

Advocacy groups, including Human Rights Watch, have described the case as a “grave” threat to press freedom and an attempt to “intimidate and silence” journalists worldwide.

Bruno Stagno, chief advocacy officer at Human Rights Watch, said Thursday that “governments, the United Nations, and other international organizations should recognize transnational repression as a specific threat to human rights.”

“They should prioritize bold policy responses that are in line with a human rights framework and uphold the rights of affected individuals and communities,” said Stagno.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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