Freedom House: How Autocrats Silence Their Exiles A demonstrator shows a three-fingered sign of resistance as democracy activists and their supporters protest outside of the Chinese Consulate to demand that the People's Republic of China ''stop supporting Myanmar terrorists'' Wednesday, March 31, 2021 in Los Angeles. (Ringo Chiu via AP)
By Michael Cozzi | Tuesday, 06 April 2021 09:51 AM
Last month, the influential thinktank, Freedom House, published a report that exposes authoritarian regimes' horrendous practices to silence and stymie their people's human rights.
The more nuanced aspect of repression that Freedom House touches upon is how these authoritarian regimes silence and repress exiles and diasporas that have fled these autocrats.
Notably, authoritarian regimes employ various tactics to strike fear into their citizens' hearts who have fled abroad. Freedom House categorizes these tactics under:
- Long-distance threats (spyware attacks, digital threats).
- Travel control (revoking passports, reporting travel documents as illegal).
- Co-opting countries (manipulating governmental institutions to detain, deport, or turnover fleeing peoples).
- Directly attacking individuals (kidnapping, assassinations, and assaults).
Freedom House even has broken down the top authoritarian regimes that have used these tactics to silence and expand their reigns of fear abroad. The top 5 countries that employ these tactics are China, Uzbekistan, Rwanda, Russia, and Tajikistan.
To no one’s surprise, China is the only country to engage in every type of every single category of transnational repression.
The flagrant abuse of human rights by China's authoritarian regime expands to the Uighurs and Tibetans and the Falun Gong and, more recently, to Hong Kongers and Inner Mongolians.
Freedom House's assessment of the growing Chinese power is in the bleakest of terms for human rights: "Due to China's growing power internationally, its technical capacity, and its aggressive claims regarding Chinese citizens and noncitizens overseas, its campaign has a significant effect on the rights and freedoms of overseas Chinese and minority communities in exile in dozens of countries. Additionally, the CCP's use of transnational repression poses a long-term threat to rule of law systems in other countries. This is because Beijing's influence is powerful enough to not only violate the rule of law in an individual case, but also to reshape legal systems and international norms to its interests."
Moreover, the Chinese human rights violations have not halted in the past months. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has even targeted Chinese journalists who dare to expose their flagrant human rights abuses in the foreign press.
Freedom House documented a chilling example: "In July 2020, a Chinese student in Australia who runs a Twitter account critical of Xi Jinping said she had received video calls in which a Chinese police officer, speaking next to her father, warned her 'to remember that you are a citizen of China.'"
This jarring account comes on the heels of President Biden's loquacious soliloquy at the CNN town hall on how "no American president can be sustained as a president if he doesn't reflect the values of the United States. … Culturally, there are different norms that each country and their leaders are expected to follow."
A strong argument can be made that these statements are precisely the type of cultural relativism that undermines the universally self-evident truths "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
There are those who also conclude that this kind of language from an American president that reduces our international sanctions to mere parchment guarantees and that the United States dares to share that it cares — without doing anything about it outside of a statement. As the Biden White House spokesperson Kedenard Raymond reiterated, "The president was speaking about the need for U.S. presidents to speak out on universal values, which are deeply held by Americans, and about human dignity everywhere."
Michael Cozzi is a Ph.D candidate at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.