Transnational Repression: from China to Belarus

Panel explores how repressive regimes persecute opponents far beyond their own borders.

Transnational Repression: from China to Belarus

Panel explores how repressive regimes persecute opponents far beyond their own borders.

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IWPR Discussion: Understanding Transnational Repression in Central Asia
Thursday, 12 August, 2021


The Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting is a project of IWPR

The crisis in Belarus has now transformed from a local conflict about political legitimacy into a regional issue of security, opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya told an IWPR event last week.

Tikhanovskaya was the keynote speaker at an online forum exploring transnational repression across Central Asia at which expert speakers explored how repressive regimes were pursuing, extraditing and imprisoning political opponents outside their own areas of authority.  

These government particularly exploited the development and globalisation of digital technologies to track opposition activists abroad, with international law apparently incapable of countering repression at a regional level.

Tikhanovskaya highlighted how the Minsk authorities had violated international norms by forcing a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius to land in Belarus so that they could arrest prominent activist Roman Protasevich, head of the NEXTA news service.

Transnational repression is a core element of regime security

“By doing so, the regime once again refused to be a part of the civilised world and embraced the role of international terrorists,” she said. “The crisis in Belarus stopped being a local conflict about the presidential legitimacy and turned into a problem of regional security.”

Other speakers emphasised that transnational repression had become a widespread and commonly used tactic by a variety of states.

“Transnational repression is a core element of regime security in Central Asia,” said Nate Schenkkan, director of research strategy at Freedom House. “Central Asians are highly mobile, especially within the former Soviet Union. Of course Russia is the most important host-state and this reflects on transnational repression. But also [this applies] to Turkey and to some degree to Europe.”

Edward Lemon, president of the OXUS Society for Central Asian Affairs, described the database project his organisation launched in 2015 with the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP).

Researchers found 248 cases related to detentions, arrests and extraditions and from Central Asian states. These included 129 cases concerning Uzbekistan, most frequently after the Andizhan uprising in 2005.

Lemon explained that Tajikistan in particular exploited Interpol tools to find and extradite citizens, although the organisation’s charter prohibits detentions for political reasons.

Turkmenistan, the most repressive Central Asian state, came third with 37 cases documented, while Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan rarely used such tactics.

Lemon said that China used both bilateral and regional arrangements regarding detention and extradition of citizens, most often concerning ethnic Uighurs who had moved to Central Asian states.

“It follows that Central Asian countries not only use transnational repression to persecute their opponents, but are also the territory where the Chinese authorities use transnational repression,” he said.

Alexander Cooley of Columbia University, Central Asian Studies, said that the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) played a vital role in supporting and developing the practice of transnational repression. Since 2009, SCO members have had an agreement over the arrest and extradition without the need to provide any evidence.

 “Here we see an interesting situation in Central Asia: when, on the one hand, transnational repression goes beyond law, and, on the other hand, these activities are justified both by law and by other unofficial mechanisms,” he said.

Cooley stressed that the international community needed to focus on this issue and build a dialogue with Central Asian states at the regional level, suggesting the EU transnational repression in the framework of human rights dialogues.

The event was part of IWPR’s Amplify, Verify, Engage: Information for Democratisation and Good Governance in Eurasia project with financial support from the Norwegian ministry of foreign affairs.

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

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