Transnational Repression by Turkmenistan

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report titled Agency Actions Needed to Address Harassment of Dissidents and Other Tactics of Transnational Repression in the U.S. While the report primarily talks about foreign governments using various tactics, from spyware to assault, to silence U.S.-based dissidents, it also mentions such practices taking place worldwide. In particular, they cite Freedom House report that includes Turkmenistan among countries considered transnational repression perpetrators in 2023.

Transnational repression (TNR) is when governments use threats or violence to silence dissenters and diasporas living abroad. This might include assassinations, illegal deportations, abductions, digital threats, and family intimidation. According to the Freedom House, the government in Turkmenistan commits direct and physical transnational repression of its nationals living abroad.

Figure 1. Foreign Governments that Received U.S. Arms Transfers in Fiscal Year 2017-2021 and/or Were Named as Transnational Repression Perpetrators in Reports (Issued 2022–2023)

Several factors make it difficult to detect and address transnational repression including:

  • Lack of appropriate laws defining transnational repression.
  • Lack of common understanding about TNR across various government institutions and local law enforcement agencies.
  • Victims of TNR being reluctant to report incidents, especially if they had unpleasant experiences with law enforcement in their own countries.
  • Victims fearing retribution from perpetrating governments if they report cases of TNR.
  • Victims may not recognize activities as TNR especially if they come from countries where repression is normalized.
  • Difficulty to detect the foreign connection to these crimes.
  • Difficulty to detect digital TNR because online death threats and surveillance is frequently opaque.
  • Difficulty to differentiate TNR on social media from the broader problem of harassment online.

The report concludes that TNR is a threat to American national security given the recent high-profile acts of TNR against U.S.-based persons. The U.S. law enforcement authorities guarantee the freedom of speech of anyone in the U.S., regardless of their citizenship and encourages victims of transactional repression to contact their nearest FBI field office.

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