Government abuse

Oppressive Regimes Reach Beyond Their Borders

Fleeing isn't enough to keep dissenters safe from tyranny.


Last week, President Joe Biden offered temporary safe haven to some residents of Hong Kong who fear the treatment they might receive from the Chinese government if they return home. It's a good first step in recognizing the risks posed to the people of that once-free territory who suffer under increasingly totalitarian rule. But it's not enough for Hong Kong or for anybody who seeks freedom in a world in which governments reach across borders to punish those who challenge their abuses.

"Pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct the foreign relations of the United States, I have determined that it is in the foreign policy interest of the United States to defer for 18 months the removal of any Hong Kong resident subject to the conditions and exceptions provided below," Biden wrote in his August 5 memo. "By unilaterally imposing on Hong Kong the Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (NSL), the PRC has undermined the enjoyment of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, including those protected under the Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration."

The memo went on to detail the conditions under which those afraid of conditions back home might be permitted to live, work, and study in the United States—at least, for a while. Unfortunately, the memo covered only refugees from a single regime among many abusive governments, and it almost certainly offers them only partial protection.

"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 noted earlier this year. "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."

Freedom House tallied up acts of repression by 31 regimes targeted at exiles in 79 countries, although the non-profit group emphasizes that the count is incomplete. The report also can't account for the chilling effect such acts have on dissent, through online harassment or proxy punishment of friends and relatives under the regimes' authority.

As you would expect, China is in that report, charged with assassination, rendition, assault, digital harassment, family intimidation, and other retaliatory acts against dissenters, ethnic and religious minorities, human rights activists, and former insiders who fled the regime. Five other countries also feature in a sort of rogues' gallery: Iran, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

In a speech last summer about the Chinese government's acts of espionage and repression, FBI Director Christopher Wray described "Fox Hunt," a program by which the country's officials try to pressure those living and working overseas to return to China to face whatever fate awaits them.

"When it couldn't locate one Fox Hunt target, the Chinese government sent an emissary to visit the target's family here in the United States," noted Wray. "The message they said to pass on? The target had two options: return to China promptly, or commit suicide. And what happens when Fox Hunt targets refuse to return to China? In the past, their family members both here in the United States and in China have been threatened and coerced, and those back in China have even been arrested for leverage."

"In countries like Vietnam and Australia, Chinese agents have simply abducted their prey, whether the targets were dissidents or people accused of corruption," ProPublica reported after its own investigation.

While "China conducts the most sophisticated, global, and comprehensive campaign of transnational repression in the world," according to Freedom House, it's hardly alone. Russia's overseas effort "accounts for 7 of 26 assassinations or assassination attempts since 2014, as catalogued in Freedom House's global survey"; former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were targeted in the United Kingdom in 2018 in an attack that resulted in the death of a local woman. Saudi Arabia's government plotted what a UN special rapporteur described as "a premeditated extrajudicial execution" of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. Turkey, in turn, has developed a reputation for leaning on other governments "to hand over individuals without due process, or with a slight fig leaf of legality," in the words of the report.

Even nominally free countries can play this game. Journalist Julian Assange is currently held in the U.K. at the behest of the United States on what Amnesty International describes as "politically motivated charges." Then-Bolivian President Evo Morales's plane was forced to land in Austria in 2013 on suspicion that it was transporting whistleblower Edward Snowden. Governments vary enormously in their awfulness but, at the end of the day, they're all based on maintaining control through force.

Cooperation among law enforcement agencies is often gamed to target exiles, with Interpol "red notices" issued on innocent people to prompt their arrest by police in host countries. Bogus terrorism charges are especially popular, constituting 58 percent of the cases tallied by Freedom House.

As  Biden's deferment of departure rules suggests, immigration bureaucracy in host countries is also frequently weaponized by authoritarian governments. Red tape keeps exiles uncertain about their status in their new homes, and exceptions and conditions for legal status are exploited by regimes that feed whatever information and allegations they want to overseas colleagues. The Chinese government is particularly fond of accusing its targets of "corruption," a charge that may be both true and unavoidable for anybody making a life in that country.

"If you're in any position of power, it's highly unlikely you've never engaged in corruption," Mareike Ohlberg, a senior fellow at the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told ProPublica. "So that means anyone can be pursued through Fox Hunt."

"[T]he risk of transnational repression has accelerated in the 21st century due to technological changes, cooperation between states against migrants, and erosion of international norms against extraterritorial violence," adds Freedom House.

So, offering Hong King residents a bit of a breather in the United States is a good first step, but it's only a beginning. Refugees from that territory and from oppressive regimes elsewhere need stronger assurances that they can make permanent homes in relative freedom, and that they'll be protected from the long arm of official thugs.


Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I made over $700 per day using my mobile in part time. I recently got my 5th paycheck of $19632 and all i was doing is to copy and paste work online. this home work makes me able to generate more cash daily easily. simple to do work and regular income from this are just superb. Here what i am doing.

    Try now………………. VISIT HERE

    1. If you were looking for a way to earn some extra income every week… Look no more!!!! Here is a great opportunity for everyone to make $95/per hour by working in your free time on your computer from home…KJH I’ve been doing this for 6 months now and last month i’ve earned my first five-figure paycheck ever!!!! Learn more about it on following link… Visit Here

      1. Fantastic work-from-home opportunity for everyone… Work for three to eight a day and start getting paid inSd the range of 17,000-19,000 dollars a month… Weekly payments Learn More details Good luck…

        See……………VISIT HERE

  2. “President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be,” he replied.

    It’s hard enough dealing with these intolerable human right violations and all the gaslighting and lying that comes along with it while balancing other national interests. But now we have to worry about Americans making common cause these evil regimes. I’m looking at you “Rather be Russian” Republicans.

    1. Biden’s a Republican now? That’s some serious mental gymnastics.

      1. Making extra salary every month from home more than $15k just by doing simple copy and paste like online job. I have received $18635 from this easy home job and now I am a good online earner like others.HNj This job is super easy and its earnings are great. Everybody can now makes extra cash online easily by

        just follow the given website……… VISIT HERE

    2. Putin a bit of effort and maybe you won’t be russian to flawed conclusions.

      1. Start making money this time… Spend more time with your family & relatives by doing jobs that only require you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home.FGh Start bringing up to $65,000 to $70,000 a month. I’ve started this job and earn a handsome income and now I am exchanging it with you, so you can do it too.

        You can check it out here………..VISIT HERE

    3. Nord Stream 2, schlemiel. And, who is buying oil from Russia after canceling Keystone? Perhaps you might turn your considerable intelligence (hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha) to human rights violations within the US instead of attempting to smear people with whom you don’t agree.

      1. Obama/Hillary gave Crimea, technology, etc to Russia. Biden is continuing in kind with energy through eastern Europe while hampering domestic energy here

        But ignorant people like Sullum up there would rather believe the discredited Steele Dossier which is known Russian misinformation at this point.

        1. “Obama/Hillary gave Crimea, technology, etc to Russia.”

          What’s the “etc” you fucking moron? Russia invaded Crimea. You’re so fucking dishonest and dumb.

          1. Remember when that nut Palin said Russia would invade Ukraine, strazzy?

          2. “…You’re so fucking dishonest and dumb.”

            Unfortunately, steaming pile of lefty shit, you don’t rise to that level.
            Fuck off and die.

      2. I do talk about America all the fucking time and I’m free to do so because we have a pretty decent thing going here, lightyears better than the “rogues’ gallery: Iran, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey”.

      3. These are 2 pay checks $78367 and $87367. that i received in last 2 months. I am very happy that i can make thousands in my part time and now i am enjoying my life.JCq Everybody can do this and earn lots of dollars from home in very short time period. Your Success is one step away Click Below Webpage……

        Just visit this website now……………. VISIT HERE

    4. It’s not Republicans fellating Putin and giving him everything he wants.

      1. While Russian government officials and Kremlin-controlled state media condemned domestic protests, pro-Trump rioting in the United States was met with their total approval. Evgeny Popov, the host of Russian state TV program 60 Minutes, repeatedly described the Capitol rioters as “unarmed, peaceful protesters” and mocked the use of the …

      2. You rightwingers are a weak leak and the Russians knew it and they’re leveraging your hatred of America for their own purposes.

        1. Who’s encouraging pipelines to enrich Putin?
          Who’s shutting down military aid to Ukraine?
          Who’s doing jackshit about repeated Russian hacking of major US firms?

          Hint: Not Republicans.

          1. Don’t confuse the poor dear.

    5. I’m looking at you “Rather be Russian” Republicans.

      Nothing to say about the “Rather be Soviet” Democrats?

    6. You aren’t looking at the GOP, and you’re engaging in bad mind reading based on internet rumors and agitprop from democrats.

      You should be afraid of what far left democrats, who are in power, are going to do. But please feel free to ignore that and engage an enemy that doesn’t exist.

      Honestly, you might as well just fuck off altogether, lard ass.

    7. Ha ha ha…sure let’s go abroad to look for monsters to destroy…funny how the progs loved the USSR but not Putin..think about that for a second..communism was loved by the American left when communism was a threat to our national security..Putin..a guy in charge of a country with a GDP not much higher than Spain and is a regional power is an existential threat…yep sure buddy

      1. Every last lefturd would break out their kneepads to fellate Putin in a New York minute if he simply announced that he’s been a Communist all along and intends to put the USSR back together.


  3. Pursuant to my constitutional authority…

    This is one of the most tone-deaf thing Biden has ever had written for him, and that’s saying something. The current administration’s blatant ignoring of the constitutional limits and restrictions on presidential authority makes me wonder why anyone with a work ethic or desire to escape tyranny would choose the United States. There are any number of countries just as awful as the United States that are not as far down the road to financial ruin. Saigon is a two and a half hour flight from Hong Kong.

    1. You’re free to leave. I doubt you will because you’re full of shit.

      1. Very well measured and reasoned response. Just what we have come to expect from your great mind.

        1. He is a Reason writer, it should be noted.

      2. This is your argument? ‘Love it or leave it, but you’re chicken?’ Are you five yeas old? You need not demonstrate that the left-leaning ‘libertarians’ are generally idiots every time you pipe up.

        1. “makes me wonder why anyone with a work ethic or desire to escape tyranny would choose the United States”

          I just turned his own question around and asked him why he lives here. He could say because “I want try make things better here” but wouldn’t that also apply to the immigrants as well.

          1. We are not forced to live together. I am more than happy to see far left democrats take their slice of north america and leave us ours.

            You see, you can’t admit that.

        2. Comparing Straz to 5 year olds is an affront to children.

  4. Oppressive Regimes Reach Beyond Their Borders

    I immediately thought this was going to be about the IRS.

    1. Or the Capitol Police.

      1. Australia.

      2. Both. The US is not great, and, I am biased, under (D) leadership, the oppressive mission creep is celebrated as a feature not a bug. Operation Choke Point was the Lightbringer all day. The (R)s suck in their own right, but were not cryptototalitarians -team (D) now being in the open with their goals. Speaking in generalizations, of course.

  5. According to Statista, about 150 million people want to come to the US to live.
    Don’t know how accurate that is, but looking at the southern border this past six months, it seems about right. Most claim asylum, but of course most don’t show up in court as scheduled to show evidence of their claim. We can’t even process a few thousand claims per year, so how do we handle millions?

    1. I think we let 400 million Chinese adults become citizens but they can stay in China with dual citizenship. And they can cast mail-in votes every two years.

      1. To save postage, their votes will be cast for them.

        1. Or they could email their votes to:

  6. Unfortunately out of the country assassinations of political rivals has a long history. Think here of Napoleon or Trotsky. Helping dissidents from Afghanistan and Hong Kong is good, but dissidents are never truly safe. It is the price paid for being a dissident.

    1. Assassins should be paying a price too.

      1. Like Obama?

    2. But, hey, if we import the assassins and their victims, they’ll count towards “anti-AAPI violence” and “minority incarceration”, so progressives will be happy because it is strengthening their cause!

    3. If I were a Hong Kong billionaire, I’d be looking to hire someone to clip Xi right about now.


  7. Meanwhile…

    The Biden Admin is discussing mandating vaccines for interstate travel [link]

    1. “Papers, please” coming to a State line near you.

    2. Ooh! I see they don’t want to pay for unvaccinated people’s treatment as well.
      Jfree gets a boner.

      1. Paying for socialized fatty care is still ok though.

    3. Good luck enforcing it. I can imagine that a lot of red states with shared borders will just agree to ignore it.

  8. “…they’re all based on maintaining control through force.”

    I think that about covers it.

    And where is OBL this morning? He should be literally screaming from the mountaintops that we should take in all of those well educated and highly qualified and hard working people from Hong Kong; seriously, take in the whole fucking province. How about it, OBL?

  9. “If you’re in any position of power, it’s highly unlikely you’ve never engaged in corruption,” Mareike Ohlberg, a senior fellow at the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund

    Which is why a free country, with a properly educated citizenship, limits it’s government’s power. Something we’re forgetting in the USA.

    1. Don’t forget you need a functioning 4th estate to go with that. Not a propaganda arm of their preferred party.

  10. Tuccille raises good points, yet news outlets report Americans rejecting our citizenship in increasing numbers. Dial back to when Tricky Dick of Yorba Linda herded conscripts to mutilation and death in Cochin-China, then crawled to beg Red China for peace while copying communist repression of all psychedelics used to reverse opiate addiction. Nixon’s law subsidizing looter candidates was leapt upon with whoops of joy by every fascist dictatorship eager to panhandle foreign aid for caging humans. No surprise, then, we see what we see today.

  11. Last week, President Joe Biden offered temporary safe haven to some residents of Hong Kong who fear the treatment they might receive from the Chinese government if they return home. It’s a good first step in recognizing the risks posed to the people of that once-free territory who suffer under increasingly totalitarian rule.

    Importing millions of people on all sides of political and social conflicts from every shithole around the world will surely make the US a better place! Libertarian moment!

  12. The US is a country that tracks and hunts down people it doesn’t like, all over the world. We learned that the drone program was far more extensive under Obama that previously known, and that both he and Brennan lied about it. Neither of them is going to prison for it.

    That leftist democrat socialists have taken up this cause from previously neocon republicans (who have joined the dem party) is testament to how deep the cancerous growth is within the federal government, and how slavishly devoted they are to keeping their power.

    But the left liberaltarians don’t care about that anymore, they just write articles bemoaning the current GOP while ignoring all the bad shit the in power far left dems are doing then and now.

    1. Very very good and spot on. The left is now agitating for American kids to fight and die to ensure gay or transgender rights in other countries..the left has always been very very authoritarian and anti traditional values…Reason writers have moved to the left ..

      What’s next wokes..American kids (mostly rural and the kind of people the wokes hate anyway) fight and die to make the world safe for abortion? F that

  13. America excepted.

  14. Tuccille forgot the most obvious example of Salman Rushdie being hunted down across national borders by followers of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini for Rushie’s writing of The Satanic Verses.

  15. What? One coercive govt. (US Empire) is secretly helping other coercive governments murder, kidnap, extort, political refugees? Why, I’m shocked! I call for a congressional investigation. Oh, wait. It doesn’t matter. If Snowden can expose govt. spying and the NSA’s lying to congress about, and nothing is done, but the public lets it happen, then no rights, no justice is possible. “I pledge allegiance to the flag, and the republic for which it stands…”

  16. I thought this was going to be about California or New York State.

    1. I assumed California too.

      Not to make light of the actions of the PRC or their moral equivalents.

    2. Not everywhere can be the bastion of freedom that is Alabama. You are free to play kickball with cow pies before going for your regular government-mandated vagina inspection.

  17. Maybe time for the US to stop foreign interventions and messing into other countries business…this stuff started in the 1930’s when far left marxist immigrants to the US mostly from Russia started to agitate that the US had to do this or that…all tied to the “old country” need stick to our own country…what Putin or the Commies in Venezula do as long as they don’t get into our economic interests it their business

    1. That’s the real problem with mass immigration to the US: every shitty political, ethnic, and religious conflict from around the globe is imported to the US.

  18. Kind of like the IRS coming for their tax money if you work overseas.

  19. If a CCP agent comes to your door to threaten you or your family, draw your weapon, place him under citizens’ arrest, and call 911 and conservative news outlets. File and press charges for making terroristic threats.

    Or, if you just shoot him and claim self defense, I think you can count on an American jury to let you walk.


  20. But as this and other Reason writers tell us, repression in the guise of “mental health” therapy is fine.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.