Out of Sight,
Not Out of Reach
Download the Report
Policy Recommendations
Understanding Transnational Repression
WHAT IS TRANSNATIONAL​REPRESSION?
It is governments​reaching across bordersto silence dissent​among diasporas andexiles, including​through assassinations,​illegal deportations,​abductions, digital​threats, Interpol abuse,and family​intimidation​.
It is a daily assault oncivilians everywhere —​including in​democracies like theUnited States, United​Kingdom, Canada,​Germany, and Australia.
WHO IS AT RISK?
Everyday People

FORCIBLY RENDERED
Praphan Pipithnamporn is a Malaysian Thai anti-monarchy campaigner. She had been arrested multiple times in Thailand for her political activities and held in military detention. Fearing further persecution, she fled Thailand in January 2019 to Malaysia and registered as an asylum-seeker. Despite her protected status, however, Malaysian authorities arrested her in April 2019, and illegally returned her to Thailand in May that year.
ORIGIN COUNTRY
Thailand
HOST COUNTRY
Malaysia
Praphan Pipithnamporn

Loujain al-Hathloul
ORIGIN & HOST
Countries
3.5
 
Million
People at Risk
608
Compiled Cases
31
Origin Countries
79
Host Countries
Origin + Host Country
Origin Country
Host Country
Each line represents a unique origin country-host country relationship through at least one incident of physical transnational repression. Every incident catalogued in the project is not mapped.
COUNTRY CASE STUDIES
These are six countries that currently operate aggressive campaigns of transnational repression.
China
View Case Study
TACTICS
Assassination, Rendition, Unlawful Deportation, Assault, Spyware, Family Intimidation, Digital Threat, Interpol Abuse, Mobility Controls
TARGETS
Minority ethnic and religious groups, human rights defenders, former insiders.
Turkey
View Case Study
TACTICS
Rendition, Digital Threat, Family Intimidation, Interpol Abuse, Mobility Controls
TARGETS
Members of the Gülen movement, supporters of Kurdish autonomy, and leftists.
Rwanda
View Case Study
TACTICS
Assassination, Rendition, Spyware, Family Intimidation, Digital Threat, Mobility Controls
TARGETS
Members of the diaspora, especially those that challenge the government politically or question its version of Rwandan history.
Saudi Arabia
View Case Study
TACTICS
Assassination, Rendition, Spyware, Family Intimidation, Digital Threat, Mobility Controls
TARGETS
Political critics of the Saudi monarchy.
Russia
View Case Study
TACTICS
Assassination, Rendition, Unlawful Deportation, Digital Threat, Spyware, Interpol Abuse
TARGETS
Former insiders and defectors that threaten the Russian regime. Chechens face extreme threats from the Chechen Republic.
Iran
View Case Study
TACTICS
Assassination, Rendition, Spyware, Family Intimidation, Digital Threat, Interpol Abuse, Mobility Controls
TARGETS
Political opponents of the ruling regime.
A GRAVE THREAT TO
Democracy & Freedom
Direct Attacks
Origin country tactics that physically reach the individual targeted.
Long Distance Threats
Origin country tactics that do not require physically reaching the individual targeted.
Mobility Controls
When origin countries restrict individuals’ ability to travel.
Co-opting other countries
When origin countries manipulate host country institutions like police or immigration authorities to harass, detain, or transfer individuals.
A CALL FOR
Accountability & Resilience
Leaders must end impunity and limit opportunities to target exiles.
View the full set of policy recommendations.
US Domestic Policy
Civil Society
US Foreign Policy
Other Democracies
SPREAD THE WORD
Download the Report
 
Share
Tweet
Executive Summary
A Tajik opposition activist applies for asylum but is deported from Austria to Tajikistan, where he is tortured and imprisoned.
An Iranian journalist in Europe wakes up and opens his phone to a stream of death threats from Iran.
The family of a Uighur in Canada is put in a labor camp in China—when the family gets out, they call and warn their exiled daughter to keep quiet while a Chinese official looks on.
A Russian man who fled to the United States when security services stole his business is held on a frivolous Interpol notice and kept in US immigration detention for a year and a half.
A Rwandan opposition leader is abducted while in transit through the United Arab Emirates and reappears three days later in Kigali, facing trial for “terrorism.”
A Turkish teacher is pulled off the streets of Kosovo and bundled onto an airplane to Turkey.
Saudi officials asphyxiate and dismember a Saudi journalist inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul.
 
All of these are examples of “transnational repression,” or countries targeting their diasporas and exiles abroad in order to silence them. All of these are real events that happened in the last six years, emblematic of an enormous and growing threat to activists, journalists, and migrants the world over. All over the world, states are employing a diverse and aggressive toolbox of tactics to control their citizens, or sometimes even non-citizens, abroad.
This report is the product of an effort to understand the scale and scope of “transnational repression,” in which governments reach across national borders to silence dissent among their diaspora and exile communities. Freedom House assembled cases of transnational repression from public sources, including UN and government documents, human rights reports, and credible news outlets, in order to generate a detailed picture of this global phenomenon.
The project compiled a catalogue of 608 direct, physical cases of transnational repression since 2014. In each incident, the origin country’s authorities physically reached an individual living abroad, whether through detention, assault, physical intimidation, unlawful deportation, rendition, or suspected assassination. The list includes 31 origin states conducting physical transnational repression in 79 host countries. This total is certainly only partial; hundreds of other physical cases that lacked sufficient documentation, especially detentions and unlawful deportations, are not included in Freedom House’s count. Nevertheless, even this conservative enumeration shows that what often appear to be isolated incidents—an assassination here, a kidnapping there—in fact represent a pernicious and pervasive threat to human freedom and security.
Moreover, physical transnational repression is only the tip of the iceberg. The consequences of each physical attack ripple out into a larger community. And beyond the physical cases compiled for this report are the much more widespread tactics of “everyday” transnational repression: digital threats, spyware, and coercion by proxy, such as the imprisonment of exiles’ families. For millions of people around the world, transnational repression has become not an exceptional tool, but a common and institutionalized practice used by dozens of regimes to control people outside their borders.
Freedom House’s research shows that:
The report consists of an introduction, a description of the methods of transnational repression, case studies on six states—China, Rwanda, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey—conducting significant transnational repression campaigns, regional summaries covering countries not in the case studies, and recommendations.
Freedom House’s recommendations focus on what policymakers can do to hold perpetrators accountable for transnational repression and increase resilience within democracies.
Consistent accountability, especially in the form of targeted sanctions, will raise the cost of transnational repression for the regimes in question. Resilience efforts, especially measures that reduce opportunities for authoritarian states to manipulate institutions within democracies, will make it harder to attack exiles and diaspora communities in practice.
A thorough approach to resilience must include the recognition that excessively harsh policies intended to deter migrants and asylum seekers facilitate the external exploitation of a host country’s institutions, making it more likely that a persecuted individual will be denied asylum, deported, or otherwise mistreated. In order to proactively counter transnational repression, host countries should build trust with migrants through sustained outreach that informs them about their rights and the resources available to protect them.
Transnational repression is a serious threat to human rights and to democracy around the world, but with accountability for perpetrators and compassion for its targets, it can be stopped.
About the project
The project was made possible through the generous support of the Achelis and Bodman Foundation.
To read more about the project, click here. Data is available on request from Freedom House through research@freedomhouse.org​. Please use the subject line “Transnational Repression Data Request.”
Be the first to know what's happening.
Join the Freedom House monthly newsletter
Email
Our Issues
Countries
Policy Recommendations
Explore the Map
Donate
News & Perspectives
Reports
Events
About
Careers
ADDRESS
1850 M St. NW Floor 11
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 296-5101
GENERAL INQUIRIES
info@freedomhouse.org
PRESS & MEDIA
press@freedomhouse.org
FOLLOW
Manage Subscriptions
Contact Us
Privacy Policy
Content Permissions
Site Map
@2021 FreedomHouse
EVENTSNEWS & PERSPECTIVESFIND A COUNTRYEXPLORE THE MAPCAREERS
Our IssuesAuthoritarian ReachTechnology & DemocracyPromoting U.S. LeadershipDemocracies in DeclineElection IntegrityEquality & Human RightsGovernment Accountability & TransparencyStrengthening Civil SocietyMedia FreedomReligious FreedomFreedom of ExpressionFreedom of AssemblyDemocracy During PandemicProgramsRegional ProgramsEmergency Assistance and Thematic ProgramsCountriesPolicy RecommendationsReportsFreedom in the WorldFreedom on the NetNations in TransitChina Media BulletinElection Watch for the Digital AgeTransnational RepressionSpecial ReportsArchivesNews & PerspectivesPress Releases & StatementsManage SubscriptionsExplore NewslettersAbout UsHistoryOur ExpertsEventsBoard and LeadershipWays to GiveFinancialsCareersContact Us