Authoritarian states are increasingly targeting journalists working in exile as part of government reprisal campaigns against dissidents living outside their countries, US-based rights group Freedom House said in a new report Wednesday.
The uptick in so-called “transnational repression,” which can target all kinds of citizens living abroad, comes just a week after an Indian national was charged by US authorities with plotting to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader in New York, allegedly at the direction of an Indian government official.
“As attacks on free and independent media increase globally, more and more journalists are being forced to work from exile, and are increasingly facing the threat of transnational repression in their new homes abroad,” the Freedom House report said.
Tactics used include “physical harm, detention and rendition, online harassment… reprisals against family members” and smear campaigns, among other efforts “that degrade their morale and commitment to the profession.”
“Some, like Jamal Khashoggi, have been assassinated,” the report said, in reference to the Saudi Washington Post columnist whose 2018 killing in his country’s consulate in Istanbul shocked the world.
From 2014 to 2023, the report tallied 112 incidents of “physical repression” against journalists by 26 governments — including China, Russia, Belarus, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Cambodia.
However it warned that the data “captures only a fraction of the phenomenon, as many incidents are unreported or extremely difficult to conclusively verify.”
“It’s an important time to be looking at the specific targeting of journalists, because more and more journalists are actually fleeing their countries due to domestic crackdowns,” Jessica White, the lead author of the report, told AFP.
She also noted that the United Kingdom and Norway are good examples of countries that provide police protection or other safety measures for those who receive threats from abroad.
In a speech last week, US Deputy Assistant Attorney General Eun Young Choi separately warned against “an alarming rise” in “efforts by foreign governments — often authoritarian regimes — to interfere with the freedom of expression and to punish their critics and dissidents, including diaspora communities here in the United States.”
“When it comes to transnational repression, we see everything: from content moderation, to harassment, to stalking, and even murder-for-hire plots against Americans on US soil,” Young said.
In response to the uptick in threats and violence, the report called for “targeted sanctions on perpetrators and enablers of transnational repression against exiled journalists.”