Last week, the Washington Post highlighted a new Freedom House report, Defending Democracy in Exile, which focuses on increasingly aggressive cases of transnational repression by autocratic regimes looking to silence opponents.
The Freedom House report details a stark increase in worldwide cases of transnational repression in 2021, with 85 new cases of “public, direct, physical incidents of transnational repression” reported last year alone. The 42-page indictment warns of an alarming uptick of “brazen” actions by these regimes that seek to exploit international bodies like Interpol to advance their political agenda. The report names a number of countries that “demonstrated a dangerous disregard for international law, democratic norms, and state sovereignty”, including the Indian government.
Modi Government: “Physical Transnational Repression”
According to Freedom House, the Modi government has escalated the use of “physical transnational repression”, targeting the physical health and safety of those who assert their rights and defy the dictates of the Modi regime abroad.
Like other autocratic regimes, the report draws attention to the Modi government’s pursuit of political opponents outside its borders noting that these regimes are “increasingly and more aggressively disregarding US laws to threaten, harass, surveil, stalk, and even plot to physically harm people across the country.”
The author of the report, Yana Gorokhovskaia explained that these regimes are promoting the idea that “people do not have the right to criticize those in power, no matter where they are in the world — not only at home but once they leave home as well.”
Under the Hindu nationalist rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has turned to authoritarianism. A 2021 report by Amnesty International showed that journalists, media outlets, and activists were “threatened and intimidated through the misuse of over-broad financial laws.” Political opposition and government critics face similar persecution, with Human Rights Watch noting these opposition voices “are accused of sedition, criminal defamation, or terrorism” and then face arbitrary detention and harassment.
The Berkley Journal of International Law details the Modi regime’s history of these violations, discussing how their attempts to silence outspoken activists, political opposition, and other voices, “by the use of force, arrests, internet shutdowns, and human rights violations” are all part of a broader pattern in Modi’s India that is “neither unprecedented nor surprising.”
Just last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke of increasing cases of religious repression in India, stating “in India, the world’s largest democracy and home to a great diversity of faiths, we have seen rising attacks on people and places of worship.” His comments come just weeks after the Secretary declared the U.S. was closely monitoring India because of a “rise in human rights abuses by some government, police and prison officials.” Amnesty International has condemned the Modi government’s attacks on political opposition, noting they threaten the “well-being and human rights of millions.”
Bogus Red Notices; U.S. Congress Takes Hard Line
As the Washington Post explains, transnational repression is hard for any one country to fix. Organizations like Interpol are often the first port of call by the authoritarian governments, issuing “Red Notices against dissidents and exiles” as part of their intimidation and harassment campaign, and in the hope that unsuspecting governments will extradite them back to their motherland.
The U.S. Congress has had enough, and is demanding greater action from the U.S. Departments of Justice and State in the face of these tactics by autocratic regimes. U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) were successful in securing the inclusion of language in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act that requires the Attorney General and Secretary of State to ensure Interpol is not used as a vehicle by these regimes to “harass or persecute political opponents, human rights defenders, or journalists.”