Oppressive Regimes Reach Beyond Their Borders
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 intimidati
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