Contents – The long reach: How authoritarian countries are silencing critics abroad


The Spring 2024 issue of Index looks at how authoritarian states are bypassing borders in order to clamp down on dissidents who have fled their home state. In this issue we investigate the forms that transnational repression can take, as well as highlighting examples of those who have been harassed, threatened or silenced by the long arm of the state.

The writers in this issue offer a range of perspectives from countries all over the world, with stories from Turkey to Eritrea to India providing a global view of how states operate when it comes to suppressing dissidents abroad. These experiences serve as a warning that borders no longer come with a guarantee of safety for those targeted by oppressive regimes.


Up Front

Border control, by Jemimah Steinfeld: There's no safe place for the world's dissidents. World leaders need to act.

The Index, by Mark Frary: A glimpse at the world of free expression, featuring Indian elections, Predator spyware and a Bahraini hunger strike.


Just passing through, by Eduardo Halfon: A guided tour through Guatemala's crime traps.

Exporting the American playbook, by Amy Fallon: The culture wars are finding new ground in Canada, where the freedom to read is the latest battle.

The couple and the king, by Clemence Manyukwe: Tanele Maseko saw her activist husband killed in front of her eyes, but it has not stopped her fight for democracy.

Obrador's parting gift, by Chris Havler-Barrett: Journalists are free to report in Mexico, as long as it's what the president wants to hear.

Silencing the faithful, by Simone Dias Marques: Brazil's religious minorities are under attack.

The anti-abortion roadshow, by Rebecca L Root: The USA's most controversial new export could be a campaign against reproductive rights.

The woman taking on the trolls, by Daisy Ruddock: Tackling disinformation has left Marianna Spring a victim of trolling, even by Elon Musk.

Broken news, by Mehran Firdous: The founder of The Kashmir Walla reels from his time in prison and the banning of his news outlet.

Who can we trust?, by Kimberley Brown: Organised crime and corruption have turned once peaceful Ecuador into a reporter's nightmare.

The cost of being green, by Thien Viet: Vietnam's environmental activists are mysteriously all being locked up on tax charges.

Who is the real enemy?, by Raphael Rashid: Where North Korea is concerned, poetry can go too far - according to South Korea.

The law, when it suits him, by JP O'Malley: Donald Trump could be making prison cells great again.

Special Report: The long reach - how authoritarian countries are silencing critics abroad

Nowhere is safe, by Alexander Dukalskis: Introducing the new and improved ways that autocracies silence their overseas critics.

Welcome to the dictator's playground, by Kaya Genç: When it comes to safeguarding immigrant dissidents, Turkey has a bad reputation.

The overseas repressors who are evading the spotlight, by Emily Couch: It's not all Russia, China and Saudi Arabia. Central Asian governments are reaching across borders too.

Everything everywhere all at once, by Daisy Ruddock: It's both quantity and quality when it comes to how states attack dissent abroad.

A fatal game of international hide and seek, by Danson Kahyana: After leaving Eritrea, one writer lives in constants fear of being kidnapped or killed.

Our principles are not for sale, by Jirapreeya Saeboo: The Thai student publisher who told China to keep their cash bribe.

Refused a passport, by Sally Gimson: A lesson from Belarus in how to obstruct your critics.

Be nice, or you're not coming in, by Salil Tripathi: Is the murder of a Sikh activist in Canada the latest in India's cross-border control.

An agency for those denied agency, by Amy Fallon: The Sikh Press Association's members are no strangers to receiving death threats.

Always looking behind, by Zhou Fengsuo and Nathan Law: If you're a Tiananmen protest leader or the face of Hong Kong's democracy movement, China is always watching.

Putting Interpol on notice, by Tommy Greene: For dissidents who find themselves on Red Notice, it's all about location, location, location

Living in Russia's shadow, by Irina Babloyan, Andrei Soldatov and Kirill Martynov: Three Russian journalists in exile outline why paranoia around their safety is justified.


Solidarity, Assange-style, by Martin Bright: Our editor-at-large on his own experience working with Assange.

Challenging words, by Emma Briant: An academic on what to do around the weaponisation of words.

Good, bad and everything that's in between, by Ruth Anderson: New threats to free speech call for new approaches.


Ukraine's disappearing ink, by Victoria Amelina and Stephen Komarnyckyj: One of several Ukrainian writers killed in Russia's war, Amelina's words live on.

One-way ticket to freedom?, by Ghanem Al Masarir and Jemimah Steinfeld: A dissident has the last laugh on Saudi, when we publish his skit.

The show must go on, by Katie Dancey-Downs, Yahya Marei and Bahaa Eldin Ibdah: In the midst of war Palestine's Freedom Theatre still deliver cultural resistance, some of which is published here.

Fight for life - and language, by William Yang: Uyghur linguists are doing everything they can to keep their culture alive.

Freedom is very fragile, by Mark Frary and Oleksandra Matviichuk: The winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize on looking beyond the Nuremberg Trials lens.

Major new global free expression index sees UK ranking stumble across academic, digital and media freedom

A major new global ranking index tracking the state of free expression published today (Wednesday, 25 January) by Index on Censorship sees the UK ranked as only “partially open” in every key area measured.

In the overall rankings, the UK fell below countries including Australia, Israel, Costa Rica, Chile, Jamaica and Japan. European neighbours such as Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Denmark also all rank higher than the UK.

The Index Index, developed by Index on Censorship and experts in machine learning and journalism at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), uses innovative machine learning techniques to map the free expression landscape across the globe, giving a country-by-country view of the state of free expression across academic, digital and media/press freedoms.

Key findings include:

  • The countries with the highest ranking (“open”) on the overall Index are clustered around western Europe and Australasia - Australia, Austria, Belgium, Costa Rica, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland.

  • The UK and USA join countries such as Botswana, Czechia, Greece, Moldova, Panama, Romania, South Africa and Tunisia ranked as “partially open”.

  • The poorest performing countries across all metrics, ranked as “closed”, are Bahrain, Belarus, Burma/Myanmar, China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini, Laos, Nicaragua, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

  • Countries such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates performed poorly in the Index Index but are embedded in key international mechanisms including G20 and the UN Security Council.

Ruth Anderson, Index on Censorship CEO, said:

“The launch of the new Index Index is a landmark moment in how we track freedom of expression in key areas across the world. Index on Censorship and the team at Liverpool John Moores University have developed a rankings system that provides a unique insight into the freedom of expression landscape in every country for which data is available.

“The findings of the pilot project are illuminating, surprising and concerning in equal measure. The United Kingdom ranking may well raise some eyebrows, though is not entirely unexpected. Index on Censorship’s recent work on issues as diverse as Chinese Communist Party influence in the art world through to the chilling effect of the UK Government’s Online Safety Bill all point to backward steps for a country that has long viewed itself as a bastion of freedom of expression.

“On a global scale, the Index Index shines a light once again on those countries such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates with considerable influence on international bodies and mechanisms - but with barely any protections for freedom of expression across the digital, academic and media spheres.”

Nik Williams, Index on Censorship policy and campaigns officer, said:

“With global threats to free expression growing, developing an accurate country-by-country view of threats to academic, digital and media freedom is the first necessary step towards identifying what needs to change. With gaps in current data sets, it is hoped that future ‘Index Index’ rankings will have further country-level data that can be verified and shared with partners and policy-makers.

“As the ‘Index Index’ grows and develops beyond this pilot year, it will not only map threats to free expression but also where we need to focus our efforts to ensure that academics, artists, writers, journalists, campaigners and civil society do not suffer in silence.”

Steve Harrison, LJMU senior lecturer in journalism, said: 

“Journalists need credible and authoritative sources of information to counter the glut of dis-information and downright untruths which we’re being bombarded with these days. The Index Index is one such source, and LJMU is proud to have played our part in developing it.

“We hope it becomes a useful tool for journalists investigating censorship, as well as a learning resource for students. Journalism has been defined as providing information someone, somewhere wants suppressed – the Index Index goes some way to living up to that definition.”

Why journalists need emergency safe havens

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The number of journalists killed while doing their work rose in 2020. It’s no wonder, then, that a team of internationally acclaimed lawyers are advising governments to introduce emergency visas for reporters who have to flee for their lives when work becomes too dangerous.

The High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom, a group of lawyers led by Amal Clooney and former president of the UK Supreme Court Lord Neuberger, has called for these visas to be made available quickly. The panel advises a coalition of 47 countries on how to prevent the erosion of media freedom, and how to hold to account those who harm journalists.

At the launch of the panel’s report, Clooney said the current options open to journalists in danger were “almost without exception too lengthy to provide real protection”. She added: “I would describe the bottom line as too few countries offer ‘humanitarian’ visas that could apply to journalists in danger as a result of their work.”

The report that includes these recommendations was written by barrister Can Yeğinsu. It has been formally endorsed by the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights special rapporteur for freedom of expression, and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute.

As highlighted by the recent release of an International Federation of Journalists report showing 65 journalists and media workers were killed in 2020 – up 17 from 2019 – and 200 were jailed for their work, the issue is incredibly urgent.

Index has spoken to journalists who know what it is like to work in dangerous situations about why emergency visas are vital, and to the lawyer leading the charge to create them.

Syrian journalist Zaina Erhaim, who has worked for the BBC Arabic Service, has reported on her country’s civil war. She believes part of the problem for journalists forced to flee because of their work is that many immigration systems are not set up to be reactive to those kinds of situations, “because the procedures for visas and immigration is so strict, and so slow and bureaucratic”.

Erhaim, who grew up in Idlib in Syria’s north-west, went on to report from rebel-held areas during the civil war, and she also trained citizen journalists.

The journalist, who won an Index award in 2016, has been threatened with death and harassed online. She moved to Turkey for her own safety and has spoken about not feeling safe to report on Syria at times, even from overseas, because of the threats.

She believes that until emergency visas are available quickly to those in urgent need, things will not change. “Until someone is finally able to act, journalists will either be in hiding, scared, assassinated or already imprisoned,” she said.

“Many journalists don’t even need to emigrate when they’re being targeted or feel threatened. Some just need some peace for three or four months to put their mind together, and think what they’ve been through and decide whether they should come back or find another solution.”

Erhaim, who currently lives in the UK, said it was also important to think about journalists’ families.

Eritrean journalist Abraham Zere is living in exile in the USA after fleeing his country. He feels the visa proposal would offer journalists in challenging political situations some sense of hope. “It’s so very important for local journalists to [be able to] flee their country from repressive regimes.”

Eritrea is regularly labelled the worst country in the world for journalists, taking bottom position in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index 2021, below North Korea. The RSF report highlights that 11 journalists are currently imprisoned in Eritrea without access to lawyers.

Zere said: “Until I left the country, for the last three years I was always prepared to be arrested. As a result of that constant fear, I abandoned writing. But if I were able to secure such a visa, I would have some sense of security.”

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is a journalist formerly based in Hong Kong who has recently moved to Taiwan. He has worked as an editor for the Hong Kong Free Press, as well as for the South China Morning Post, Time and The Wall Street Journal.

“I wasn’t facing any immediate threats of violence, harassment, that sort of thing, [but] the environment for the journalists in Hong Kong was becoming a lot darker and a lot more dire, and [it was] a lot more difficult to operate there,” he said.

He added that although his need to move wasn’t because of threats, it had illustrated how difficult a relocation like that could be. “I tried applying from Hong Kong. I couldn’t get a visa there. I then had to go halfway around the world to Canada to apply for a completely different visa there to get to Taiwan.”

He feels the panel’s recommendation is much needed. “Obviously, journalists around the world are facing politically motivated harassment or prosecution, or even violence or death. And [with] the framework as it is now, journalists don’t really fit very neatly in it.”

As far as the current situation for journalists in Hong Kong is concerned, he said: “It became a lot more dangerous reporting on protests in Hong Kong. It’s immediate physical threats and facing tear gas, police and street clashes every day. The introduction of the national security law last year has made reporting a lot more difficult. Virtually overnight, sources are reluctant to speak to you, even previously very vocal people, activists and lawyers.”

In the few months since the panel launched its report and recommendations, no country has announced it will lead the way by offering emergency visas, but there are some promising signs from the likes of Canada, Germany and the Netherlands. [The Dutch House of Representatives passed a vote on facilitating the issuance of emergency visas for journalists at the end of June.]

Report author Yeğinsu, who is part of the international legal team representing Rappler journalist Maria Ressa in the Philippines, is positive about the response, and believes that the new US president Joe Biden is giving global leadership on this issue. He said: “It is always the few that need to lead. It’ll be interesting to see who does that.”

However, he pointed out that journalists have become less safe in the months since the report’s publication, with governments introducing laws during the pandemic that are being used aggressively against journalists.

Yeğinsu said the “recommendations are geared to really respond to instances where there’s a safety issue… so where the journalist is just looking for safe refuge”. This could cover a few options, such as a temporary stay or respite before a journalist returns home.

The report puts into context how these emergency visas could be incorporated into immigration systems such as those in the USA, Canada, the EU and the UK, at low cost and without the need for massive changes.

One encouraging sign came when former Canadian attorney-general Irwin Cotler said that “the Canadian government welcomes this report and is acting upon it”, while the UK foreign minister Lord Ahmad said his government “will take this particular report very seriously”. If they do not, the number of journalists killed and jailed while doing their jobs is likely to rise.

[This week, 20 UK media organisations issued an open letter calling for emergency visas for reporters in Afghanistan who have been targeted by the Taliban. Ruchi Kumar recently wrote for Index about the threats against journalists in Afghanistan from the Taliban.] [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

حياة صحفي في الاعلام الرسمي في إريتريا: كل ما تريد أن تعرف عن طبيعة العمل في الصحف الحكومية الخاضعة للرقابة الشديدة إبراهيم ت. زير


مبنى حكومي في أسمرة، عاصمة إريتريا Charles Roffey/Flickr


بدأ إبراهيم ت. زير مسيرته في إحدى الصحف الحكومية بعد فرض حظر شامل على وسائل الإعلام المستقلة. يعيش اليوم في المنفى في الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية، حيث يقوم بالكشف عن المخاطر التي تواجه الكتاب في "أكثر دول العالم خضوعاً للرقابة

في أوائل عام ٢٠١٦، طُلب من الصحفيين والموظفين الذين كانوا يشغلون مناصب رئيسية في وزارة الإعلام في إريتريا ملء نموذج شخصي مفصل، بما يتضمّن المعلومات المتعلقة بحساباتهم المصرفية، ومكان سكن أسرهم. كان التهديد لهؤلاء الذين يفكرون في مغادرة البلاد واضحاً.

لقد مر أكثر من ١٠ سنوات منذ أن توقفتُ عن العمل في وزارة الإعلام. في تلك الفترة، أصبحت الوزارة جهازاً للإرهاب، حيث تم عسكرتها أكثر من أي وقت مضى وأصبحت أكثر تدخلًا في حياة الصحفيين.

في أبريل، أجرت الصحفية المنفية بيكيريت أبرهة مقابلة مع محطة الإذاعة الإثيوبية "راديو ويغاثا". قالت أبرهة، التي سُجنت ثلاث مرات، أن أداء صحفيي الدولة يقاس الآن بشكل أساسي من قبل الجيش، وأن العديد من الصحفيين تعرضوا للاعتقال نتيجة لذلك. منذ عام ٢٠١٢، طُلب من الصحفيين أيضاً حضور التدريبات العسكرية وحراسة المكاتب الحكومية.

تحتل إريتريا حاليًا المرتبة الأخيرة (١٨٠) في مؤشر حرية الصحافة لدى منظمة مراسلون بلا حدود وقد وصفتها لجنة حماية الصحفيين بأنها "أكثر دولة خضوعاً للرقابة" في العالم.

كنت صغيراً عندما كانت الصحف المستقلة لا تزال تعمل في إريتريا، قبل حظرها في عام ٢٠٠١. كنت مساهماً نشطاً في واحدة منها، اسمها "زمن"، خلال السنة الأخيرة من دراستي الثانوية. وعدني رئيس التحرير ومعلّمي أمانويل أسرات بأن يعطيني وظيفة عندما أنهي دراستي في الصحافة، لكنه سُجن قبل تخرجي ولم أسمع منه مرة أخرى. بدا احتمال إعادة فتح الصحف المستقلة أمرًا مستبعدًا جدًا، لذلك بدأت في نشر مقال أسبوعي في الصحيفة الحكومية "حداس-إرترا" في أبريل ٢٠٠٣.

سعى عمودي الذي كان تحت عوان "جدول أعمال اليوم" إلى ايصال رسائل معينة على المستوى الرمزي أو التجريدي بالتوازي مع تغطية الأدب والفلسفة والفنون والشباب والسياسة وقضايا الحكم. بطريقة ما، تمكنت من كتابة العمود لمدة ثلاث سنوات، وأنا أمشي على حبلٍ دقيقٍ بين الغموض المتعمد والاهتمام بالسياق الإريتري.

لقد تعلمت اتباع نفس الإجراءات الأساسية. كان رئيس التحرير - الذي كان معروفًا بولائه للسلطات العليا - يسألني عما أكتب وكنت أوجز له المحتوى، مع التركيز على الزاوية التي تفضلها الصحيفة. عندما كنت أقتبس من شخصيات عالمية، كنت أخفف من وقع المادة بالقول: "الكاتب غير محبّذ في الغرب".

كل أسبوع، عندما كنت أقدّم مقالتي الجديدة، لم يكن رئيس التحرير يعلّق الا بذكر مقالتي من الأسبوع السابق في حال كانت تحتوي على شيء أغضب السلطات (بخلاف ذلك، لم أتلق أي ردود فعل على مدار جميع السنوات منه). كانت رسالته الضمنية هي: "لدي عائلة لأعتني بها فلا تسبّب لي المشاكل".

من بين ١٦ صفحة بحجم A3 من الصحيفة الحكومية اليومية (بما في ذلك صفحتان للإعلانات المبوبة)، كانت الصفحات الثلاث الأولى فقط تحتوي على تغطية للقضايا المتعلقة بإريتريا، وكانت هذه المقالات جافة ومليئة دائماً بالكليشيهات، مثل القطع الطويلة المبالغ فيها عن مشاريع السدود وكيف أن إريتريا تتقدم رغم كل ما قد يقوله الغرب.

كانت بقية التقارير هي إما مقالات دولية مترجمة من دون صلة تذكر بالبلد، أو غيرها، مثل العمود الذي كتبته، والذي كان يسعى بشكل خفي إلى ايصال الأفكار ولكن دون لفت الانتباه من الرؤساء.

إذا تجاوز الصحفيون الحد، حتى بشكل طفيف، كانوا يواجهون الاعتقال ولم يُسمح لهم باستئناف عملهم إلا بعد "إعادة تأهيلهم". كما كان وزير الإعلام علي عبده يرسل الصحفيين إلى الاعتقال في سجون الجيش، وهو الأكثر وحشية في البلاد. كما استحدثت وزارة الإعلام نظام دفع معقد للغاية تطلب من الصحفيين المستقلين زيارة ١٣ مكتباً في وزارتين لتحصيل أتعابهم.

لفترة طويلة آثرتُ السلامة وتوّخيت الحذر. كنت على علاقة جيدة مع رئيس التحرير، وكان يتم تقديري كصحفي غزير الإنتاج مستعد للعمل في حالات الطوارئ. استمر هذا الوضع حتى نشرت الصحيفة رسالة قامت بمهاجمة عمودي، قائلة إنها تقوض المجتمع الإريتري. بالنظر الى طبيعة النظام، أدركت أن هذا كان عبارة عن إنذار.

كنت على يقين من أن الشكوى جاءت من وزير الإعلام عبده. خلال السنوات الثلاث التي أمضيتها في حداس-إرترا، لم يكن لي أي اتصال شخصي مع عبده. لم أتصل به أبداً طالباً خدمة أو موافقة، مما قد يكون جريمة لا تغتفر في عينيه. كنت أدرك جيدًا سمعته القائلة بأنه يقرأ جميع الأخبار المحلية ويوافق عليها، ويراقب الأخبار الدولية بهوس يكاد يكون مرضيّاً. كنت أظن أنه لم يقدر مقالاتي. لذلك في اليوم التالي لقراءتي هذه الرسالة، تقدّمتُ باستقالتي إلى رئيس التحرير.

بعد ذلك، أصبح استياء عبده من مقالاتي واضحا بعد أن بدأت الكتابة لمجلة الحزب الحاكم، "حدري" ، والتي لم تكن تحت سيطرته. هاجمني مرتين في الصحيفة الوطنية وقال انني تهديد أمني.

تم رفض طلباتي للحصول على إذن لمغادرة البلاد والحصول على منحة دراسية في إحدى الجامعات الأمريكية. أخيرًا استخدمت شبكتي الخاصة للحصول على موافقة لرحلة دراسية إلى جنوب إفريقيا في عام ٢٠١٢ ومن هناك سافرت إلى الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية، حيث لا ازال هنا اليوم.

هرب وزير الإعلام عبده من إريتريا نفسه في عام ٢٠١٢ وطلب اللجوء السياسي في أستراليا.

في مقابلتها على الراديو في تنزانيا قالت أبرهة إن "وزارة الإعلام هي مؤسسة ميتة في موكب جنازة". في هذه الأثناء يستمر الصحفيون الإريتريون في العيش في مأزق دائم.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]أبراهام ت. زير هو المدير التنفيذي لمؤسسة بين إريتريا في المنفى[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]