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.

Why we cannot afford to look away

The world seems to be breaking at the seams. Our news is filled with images of war and the horror and fear that accompany them. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the suffering and devastation wrought by war and to be distracted from established conflicts as new ones emerge.

This week, Russia's ongoing and illegal aggression in Ukraine has almost passed without comment but Russia’s announcement of more mercenaries, coupled with Ukraine's adjustment of conscription laws to enlist younger individuals, and the dwindling air defences amidst brutal bombardments by Russia on innocent families, serve as stark reminders of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

It's a scenario we've seen unfold before. Initially, a conflict captures our attention, eliciting outcry and calls for action. However, as time passes, disaster fatigue sets in, a new disaster hits the news and the plight of those affected fades from public discourse. This is understandable and a completely human reaction. Horrors being played out on television screens night after night harm wellbeing and in some situations drive communities in other nations further apart.

The situation in Sudan stands as a harrowing testament to this phenomenon. Last week marked the first anniversary of the war in the region, yet over 8 million people are displaced, journalists continue to face persecution and activists and human rights defenders who strive to tell us the stories of atrocities unfolding are finding it harder by the day.

We must not allow history to repeat itself. In Ukraine we are at risk of seeing this happen. Every conflict demands our attention and action. While these wars may seem distant, the consequences of our indifference reverberate globally. Without international pressure for de-escalation and accountability, the waves of violence will inevitably crash upon our shores.

At Index on Censorship, we understand the fundamental role that freedom of expression plays in holding power to account and safeguarding human rights. When journalists are silenced, when dissidents are suppressed, the fabric of democracy unravels, leaving room for tyranny to flourish.

The illegal invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin is not just a regional conflict; it is a test of our collective resolve to uphold the principles of peace, freedom, and justice. As the world watches, we cannot afford to look away. We must stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, amplifying their voices and advocating for an end to the Russian violence and aggression.

It is imperative that we keep the spotlight firmly fixed on Ukraine, ensuring that the atrocities committed do not fade into obscurity. Through relentless advocacy, robust journalism, and unwavering solidarity, we can make a difference. Let us not forget the lessons of the past, nor forsake our responsibility to act in the face of injustice.

Together, let us reaffirm our commitment to a world where freedom of expression is cherished, where human dignity is upheld, and where dissidents are free to highlight the plight within their nations.

Vladimir Kara-Murza: The family man who has spent two years in prison

Vladimir Kara-Murza is a father to three children: two daughters and a son. He bears the exact same name as his father, who was one of the country's most prominent journalists and a pioneer of independent post-Soviet television. As a child growing up in Russia the younger Vladimir made up stories constantly and loved to imitate politicians, a creative, energetic character who had his family constantly roaring with laughter. When he was 12 he set up a political party to defend the rights of children. He moved to London as a teenager and, at the age of 15 in 1997, stayed up all night to follow the results of the UK general election. He was a pallbearer at the funeral of the late US senator John McCain. He's a "cat person" in contrast to his wife, Evgenia, who's a "dog person". He has a sweet tooth, especially when it comes to ice cream. He loves to cook.

These are just some facts about a man that the campaigner Bill Browder calls "incredible", "the type of person that our world needs the most". But these are not what he is known for. Instead it's his incarceration in a Russia prison, which yesterday reached the grim milestone of two years, that has made him headline news. It's his poisoning by Putin not once but twice. It's also, more positively, his unrelenting pursuit of democracy and human rights, which has seen him being awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. It's his role in the 2012 passage of the Magnitsky Act, which freezes the assets and bans the visas of Russian human rights violators.

Two years ago he was sentenced to 25 years for charges linked to his criticism of the war in Ukraine. His sentence is the lengthiest at present of any political prisoner in Russia (side note yesterday was also the two-year anniversary of the detention of Sasha Skochilenko, who was arrested for distributing anti-war leaflets in a grocery store. She is serving a seven-year sentence for that simple act). Fears for Vladimir's life are large. His health alone is in a terrible place.

Last night at an event organised by Browder in London, spokespeople from the UK government said they'd be taking a more active role in pursuing Vladimir's release. We hope they are true to their word and their efforts bear fruit. As we wrote yesterday up to this point the UK government's response has been "woefully inadequate".

At the end of yesterday's event his mother, Elena, took to the stage. She bookended her speech with five simple words:

"Please help save my son."

Vladimir was not in Russia when they launched their full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Just before returning there he had been in London, taking to the stage at Barbican and eating with friends at Cecconi’s, a popular Italian restaurant in Shoreditch. His life was good. He could have stayed and many begged him to do just that. But he felt compelled to return. In his words: "I’m a Russian politician. All Russians should stand up to Putin. But how can I ask others to do that if I’m too afraid to return to my own country? I must be there.”

Vladimir went back to Russia to fight for a greater cause because he felt duty-bound. We now have a duty to fight for him.

Kara-Murza’s detention, two years on: A tale of resilience amid Russian authoritarianism

Today marks two long years since Vladimir Kara-Murza, a journalist, author, filmmaker, opposition politician, husband and father of three was detained by the Putin regime.

Kara-Murza, a British citizen, had been a tireless pro-democracy campaigner and a champion of legislation that has provided for human rights violators and corrupt officials around the world to be subject to asset freezes and visa bans (Magnitsky Acts). In most of Europe, Kara-Murza is rightly lauded for his work in defense of human rights and was awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize in 2022. 

But in Russia Kara-Murza is deemed a threat to Putin and his rule. That legislation he championed for is, after all, named after someone else who dared to speak truth to power: Sergei Magnitsky, who was murdered in a Russian prison after being brutally tortured for 358 days. Last year, Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison. It is the lengthiest sentence currently being served by any political prisoner in Russia.

During his detention, Kara-Murza has been forced to endure deplorable conditions, solitary confinement, and ill treatment. His time in solitary confinement has been repeatedly extended for trivial reasons, such as sitting on the bed to put on shoes. He has been consistently denied access to medical care despite suffering from polyneuropathy, a condition affecting his central nervous system, which was damaged when he was near-fatally poisoned by FSB operatives on two separate occasions in 2015 and 2017. 

Due to his medical condition he should, according to Russia’s own legislation, be discharged from having to serve his sentence behind bars at all. Instead he is detained in a maximum-security prison in Siberia where he is subject to sub-zero temperatures, barely edible food, a constantly lit cell, and deprived of rest once his metal bed frame is promptly locked away at 5.20am. 

When the 25-year sentence was handed down to Kara-Murza last year, Navalny said - from his own prison cell - that the sentence was “revenge for the fact that he did not die” from the previous attempts on his life. Kara-Murza’s life is in real and present danger. 

Yet, the response of the UK government has so far been woefully inadequate. It must take urgent and decisive action, using every means at its disposal to secure his immediate release. With every passing day, the risk of him meeting a similar fate to Magnitsky or Alexei Navalny is increasing.