Authoritarian states particularly target journalists in exile in their campaign of repression of their citizens outside their borders, says the American democracy promotion organization Freedom House in a report published Wednesday.
Known as “transnational repression”, the desire of these regimes to project their coercive apparatus onto their nationals abroad has returned to the news. American judicial authorities announced last week the arrest and indictment of an Indian for having sponsored the planned assassination in New York of a Sikh separatist leader, at the instigation of a New Delhi agent.
The concept came to light with the assassination of a journalist: that of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, recalls Freedom House.
“As attacks on free and independent media increase around the world, more journalists are forced to work in exile and face a growing threat of transnational repression in their new home,” according to the report.
In ten years, between 2014 and 2023, the organization counted “112 physical acts of transnational repression against journalists perpetrated by 26 governments”, including China, Russia, Belarus, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Cambodia.
But “these data only reflect a fraction of the phenomenon, many incidents being not recorded or extremely difficult to verify,” she underlines.
“This is an important moment to examine the specific targeting of journalists, because more and more of them are fleeing repression in their countries,” Jessica White, an editor of the report, told AFP.
“We see physical attempts to silence journalists, whether through attacks or assassinations. But these states also use other types of tactics, such as online harassment, smear campaigns or reprisals against the family back home”, lists this researcher from Freedom House.
“In terms of transnational repression, we see everything: from content moderation to harassment and shadowing, and even plans to recruit hitmen against Americans on American territory,” said an American vice minister of Justice, Eun Young Choi.
In this speech delivered two days after the revelation of the assassination plan against Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, she pointed to “an alarming increase in acts of transnational repression” on the part of foreign governments “to undermine the freedom of expression and punish their critics and dissidents, including in diasporas in the United States.
To protect the targeted journalists in exile, “the first step is to recognize that this is a particular threat, in order to make all police services aware of it”, believes Jessica White.
We must also guarantee their physical security, she adds, citing the example of the United Kingdom or Norway, “where those who are the subject of physical threats receive watches equipped with warning devices”.
Among its recommendations to democratic states, Freedom House advocates “targeted, coordinated and multilateral sanctions against the authors and sponsors of the transnational repression against journalists in exile.”
As such, the organization wants “visa bans and asset freezes”, specifies the researcher.