A report released by Freedom House on February 16 notes that more than 20 percent of the world’s national governments have reached beyond their borders since 2014 to forcibly silence exiled political activists, journalists, former regime insiders, and members of ethnic or religious minorities, according to new data released today by Freedom House.

The analysis reportedly finds that transnational repression—a set of physical and digital tactics used by governments to smother dissent among political exiles or diaspora communities in other countries—is a growing global problem.  According to the new data, 25 countries’ governments were responsible for 125 incidents of physical transnational repression in 2023 alone, including assassinations, abductions, assaults, detentions, and unlawful deportations.

Between 2014 and 2023, Freedom House has recorded a total of 1,034 direct, physical incidents of transnational repression committed by 44 origin-country governments in 100 target countries.  The report notes that the governments of China, Turkiye, Tajikistan, Russia, and Egypt rank as the most prolific perpetrators of transnational repression overall since 2014.

“Transnational repression presents a direct threat to domestic and international security, and democratic societies must work together to immediately address it. We cannot accept a world where there is no safe harbor for journalists, activists, and others who criticize repressive regimes,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.  “The phenomenon of authoritarians striking down dissidents who have sought refuge abroad is not going away.  Democracies will have to do more, and soon, to protect their sovereignty and their fundamental values.”

The report notes that three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, authoritarianism dominates Eurasia, with no formerly Soviet countries designated as Free aside from the three Baltic states. This lack of democratic governance has reportedly destabilized the region, as strongman rulers use military force to lash out at their neighbors and smother domestic dissent.  

According to the report, the Kremlin’s preoccupation with Ukraine hampered its ability to manage or manipulate rivalries elsewhere.  Azerbaijan’s regime stepped up its military aggression toward Armenia despite a Russian security guarantee, and a surge in cross-border shelling occurred between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in September, killing approximately 100 people. 

The limited space for free media in Eurasia has reportedly diminished further due to new criminal laws and legislative restrictions.   Pro-Kremlin propaganda efforts have become more aggressive abroad, with officials in Belarus and Turkmenistan bolstering Moscow’s image and criticizing democracies for supporting Kyiv.  In Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, lawmakers placed additional constraints on media outlets and journalists, passing new legislation that obliged foreign online platforms to register as local legal entities and empowered authorities to censor “undesired” information and ban media outlets without court approval.

These efforts to suppress criticism did little to address the root causes of public discontent, which continued to erupt into protests and elicit lethal responses from security forces. Mass demonstrations triggered by increased fuel prices in Kazakhstan resulted in over 200 deaths, and protests in Uzbekistan over proposed constitutional amendments left more than a dozen people dead and hundreds injured.

Freedom House is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to create a world where all are free.  The organization informs the world about threats to freedom, mobilize global action, and support democracy’s defenders.