WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered an opening statement at a full Committee hearing on “Transnational Repression: Authoritarians Targeting Dissenters Abroad,” where he highlighted the chilling and far-reaching impacts of transnational repression on diaspora and exile communities, human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, and others, and the need to put an end to authoritarians exporting persecution abroad. Cardin specifically called out the pervasive and insidious use of transnational repression by the Governments of Russia and the People’s Republic of China, including their targeting of individuals in the United States.
“As you all know, this is a deadly serious threat to the safety of diaspora and exile communities. They use slander and libel laws to attack human rights defenders in court. They threaten the family members of dissidents who still live back home. And—as you know—they have no problem physically assaulting or even killing to make their point… That’s what makes transnational repression so chilling. It forces many to stop speaking out, or end their activism all together. Whether it is China, Russia, Turkey, Iran or Tajikistan—these countries threaten human rights defenders all over the world,” said Chair Cardin.
More information about the hearing is available here.
A copy of the Chair’s remarks, as delivered, have been provided below.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee will come to order. For many exiles, human rights defenders, journalists and civil society activists around the world, it takes incredible courage to speak out against autocrats. Both friends and foes send their agents across borders to hunt down and harass critics. Even here on U.S. soil.
We’ve seen disturbing allegations against an Indian Government official for involvement in planning to assassinate a U.S. citizen in New York who’s critical of the Indian government. This follows allegations of India’s involvement in the killing of a Canadian Sikh leader earlier this year. The Modi government had labeled both critics as terrorists.
Transnational repression is not new, but modern technologies have expanded the governments’ reach like never before.
One of the most sophisticated global campaigns of transnational repression comes from the People’s Republic of China. Of course, they deny this. The have said “The accusation of transnational repression is totally made out of thin air.” But tell that to the Olympic figure skater whose father participated in the Tiananmen Square protests, or the Asian-American Army veteran who ran for Congress in New York, or the Radio Free Asia journalist who lives in Virginia. Beijing targeted all of them and their family members. Trying to get tax records, installing cameras in their home, stalking them, imprisoning their family back in China.
But it’s not just China. Chechnya’s leader told those who oppose him “This modern age and technology allows us to know everything, and we can find any of you.” His patron—President Putin—is just as brutal in his persecution of opponents. He sends hits squads after those he calls scum and traitors. So I want to begin this hearing by thanking our witnesses. Not just for coming to speak to us about this absolutely critical issue, but for your bravery and courage in the face of these attacks.
And I’m going to have more to say about each one of our witnesses as a distinguished panel that have been at the forefront in the fight for human rights, and we thank you very much for your courage and we particularly thank you for being with us today to share what we can do with regards to this important issue.
Your continued dedication to defending human rights and democracy is an inspiration.
As you all know, this is a deadly serious threat to the safety of diaspora and exile communities. They use slander and libel laws to attack human rights defenders in court. They threaten the family members of dissidents who still live back home. And—as you know—they have no problem physically assaulting or even killing to make their point.
This oppression is not only felt by the direct victims of the agents of these regimes, by going after one or two critics, they send a message to the entire exile community— “You are never safe anywhere. Not even if you are in a democratic nation. Not even if you have political asylum.”
That’s what makes transnational repression so chilling. It forces many to stop speaking out, or end their activism all together. Whether it is China, Russia, Turkey, Iran or Tajikistan—these countries threaten human rights defenders all over the world. That is why I wrote to the President of Tajikistan expressing my concern regarding his treatment of political opponents. And that’s why I led the Transnational Repression Accountability and Prevention Act. To increase transparency about these regimes’ abuse of INTERPOL’s Red Notices to get local law enforcement to arrest critics.
But more is needed. In the coming days, I will be introducing the “International Freedom Protection Act.” This will address the growing use of transnational repression by autocratic and illiberal states. I look forward to working with all the colleagues of this committee, Democrats and Republicans, on this legislation. It’s now my pleasure to turn it over to my distinguished colleague, Ranking Member Senator Risch.