Chronic. A novelist from Houellebecquien would speak of an extension of the field of repression. The hijacking of a European civilian flight and then the kidnapping of two of its passengers – a crime perpetrated by Belarus by Alexander Lukashenko on Sunday 23 May – illustrate one of the rising trends on the international scene: cross-border repression.
The autocrats are no longer content to tyrannize at home. They export their mode of government. They intend to repress, silence, intimidate, even torture and murder abroad. They form an implicit club, “autocrats without borders”, determined to spell the end of the ultimate resource still at the disposal of the political dissident in a dictatorial regime: exile. Dissent is not only martyred within the autocratic regime. She is being hunted abroad.
It is a bit of humanity or civilization that is going away, an additional step in the brutalization of the international scene in peacetime, a further step back in the outline of the rule of law sketched out in the aftermath of the cold War.
Of course, there have always been exceptions, big exceptions, but the exile of peaceful political opponents seemed to obey a code of non-intervention that was fairly widely shared, if not respected. This is the end of this neutral zone, of the protection offered by voluntary expatriation: no respite for the exiles.
Our colleague Gideon Rachman, one of the star commentators of Financial Times, pointed out this development the day after the hijacking of the Boeing 737 operating the Ryanair Athens-Vilnius flight FR4978. Rachman spoke of a “Dangerous precedent” for the European Union (EU) – an act of air piracy committed between two EU capitals, against a European company carrying a majority of EU nationals, followed by a double kidnapping.
But this latest example of state terrorism confirms a general development that the American human rights organization Freedom House calls “Transnational repression”. This type of political repression “Is no longer exceptional, it is becoming normalized, it is becoming an institutional practice for dozens of countries which intend to control their nationals who have taken refuge abroad”, the NGO said in a recent report.
Political assassination in a third country has always been practiced. Digital technology, an instrument of deterritorialization, now makes it possible to “work” at a distance. We silence the expatriate dissidents, we intimidate the diasporas. Both are followed, trapped, spied on in their digital transactions. Blackmail into the imprisonment of relatives back home is common.
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