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.

Turkey and Thailand: Two elections, different outcomes

One poll remains deadlocked while another has seen the population vote for a change of direction

It’s been a long two decades of dwindling freedoms in Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But his control is teetering on a ledge. The election couldn’t have come at a worse time for Erdogan, with his questionable response to the earthquakes and soaring inflation winning him a fresh batch of critics. Last Sunday Turkey headed to the polls. And the winner was… nobody. With neither former Index Tyrant of the Year Erdogan nor opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu reaching the 50% threshold needed to win the presidency, it’s back to the voting booths again.
In the week before the election, PEN Norway’s Turkey adviser shared a stack of interviews with Index, which made for sombre bedtime reading. Eleven representatives from the country’s major political parties discussed the state of free expression — or lack thereof — which Jemimah Steinfeld wrote about.
In one interview, Zeynep Esmeray Özadikti, who is a candidate for MP from Turkey’s Worker Party, wrote about the silencing of the LGBTQ+ community, hoping that if she as a trans woman is elected, it will be an important step: “In Turkey, the LGBTI+ community cannot use their freedom of expression in any way and are criminalised. Rainbow-themed products are banned, rainbow flags are seized in protests, Pride parades and indoor meetings are banned. Associations and organisations working for LGBTI+ rights are targeted and threatened.”
We could fill a whole magazine with stories about Turkey’s rocky relationship with free expression, starting with the repression of LGBTQ+ rights and Kurdish communities, and moving onto the scores of journalists who have been locked up. In our latest issue, our Turkey contributing editor Kaya Genç took a deep dive into one example of a newsroom going against the propaganda-led mainstream, Medyascope. If you want up-to-the-minute news on what’s going on in Turkey, their website is a good place to start (thank goodness for Google translate for those of us who haven’t yet set our Duolingo to Turkish).
In the run-up to the election, Turkish youth have been scouring YouTube for information that doesn’t come with a side-helping of propaganda, and the Turkish government has pulled out all the stops in silencing journalists reporting on the earthquakes, rather than focusing on… well… disaster relief. They haven’t shied away from blocking social media platforms either.
What happens next is important. If Erdogan wins, what will such a close call do to the state of Turkey’s freedoms? The first-round vote landed at 49.51% for Erdogan and 44.88% for Kılıçdaroğlu, and let’s remember who’s got the media on their side. The second round of voting is set for 28 May, and while Index would absolutely never ever back a specific candidate, we are hoping to see democracy prevail over autocracy.
Further east, and another country is undergoing a seismic change at the hands of an election held last Sunday. Where Turkey is in political limbo, Thailand is out the other side. Or is it? The country has had a military-backed government since the 2014 coup, but Sunday’s vote sent Thailand spinning off in a new direction, with the progressive Move Forward Party’s Pita Limjaroenrat likely to take the driving seat of a coalition. The party is breaking Thailand’s big taboo with plans to reform the monarchy, which is all the more poignant considering the democracy protests that started in 2020, when demonstrators asked for exactly that to happen. Under the current lese-majeste law, criticising the monarchy usually comes with a stint behind bars of up to 15 years. Thais asked for democracy. They asked for progression. They asked for the right to insult the king without spending over a decade in jail. And if all goes smoothly from here, that’s exactly what they’ll get.
But it is a big “if”. Not only will the House of Representatives (members of which were given their places through Sunday’s election) vote on who will be prime minister, so too will members of the Senate, who were selected by the military. And that’s where the story of Thailand’s democracy could come unstuck.

Don’t SLAPP the Messenger

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="116887" img_size="large"][vc_column_text]Why abusive legal threats and actions against journalists must be stopped.

Journalists are public watchdogs: by bringing information that is in the public interest to light, they help to hold power to account. But what if powerful or wealthy people wanted to keep their wrongdoings a secret? Abusive legal threats and actions, known as strategic lawsuits against public participation – or SLAPPs, are increasingly being used to intimidate journalists into silence. They are used to cover up unethical and criminal activity and to prevent the public of their right to know. SLAPPs have a devastating impact, not only on media freedom, but on human rights, rule of law, and our very democracies. This webinar hosted by Index on Censorship, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and Foreign Policy Centre (FPC), will examine the issue of SLAPP and why we need to take action in the UK and the EU to stop them.

Bill Browder, Head of Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign (chair)
Annelie Östlund, financial journalist
Herman Grech, Editor in Chief of Times of Malta
Justin Borg Barthet, Senior Lecturer at University of Aberdeen

With contributions from:
Jessica Ní Mhainín, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Index on Censorship
Paulina Milewska, Anti-SLAPP Project Researcher at ECPMF
Susan Coughtrie, Project Director at Foreign Policy Centre


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Protest & Repression Around the Globe: A roundtable discussion on Hong Kong, Thailand, Russia and Belarus

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="116310" img_size="large"][vc_column_text]Over the past two years, there have been massive citizen-led protests in Hong Kong, Thailand, Russia, and Belarus — as well as major acts of repression by their governments. Join us for a roundtable discussion that will zoom into these four countries, focusing on the similarities and differences between the two pairs of locales: Hong Kong and Thailand, and Russia and Belarus.

Our panel of experts include Natalya Chernyshova, Senior Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Winchester who will discuss Belarus; Nina Khrushcheva, Professor in the Julien J. Studley Graduate Programs of International Affairs at The New School who will discuss Russia; Claudio Sopranzetti, Assistant Professor in Anthropology at Central European University who will discuss Thailand; and Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Chancellor's Professor of History, UC Irvine, who will discuss Hong Kong. The conversation will be led by Maria Repnikova, Assistant Professor in Global Communication at Georgia State University, and will explore the possibilities of these citizen-led protests, and whether there have been — or will be — any major changes in government leadership, culture, or international relations within the four locations.

This event is programmed in partnership with the UCI Forum for the Academy and the Public, Wende Museum, Central European University Democracy Institute and the Orange County World Affairs Council.


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