Bipartisan comprehensive legislation represents bold new frontier in the fight against transnational repression
WASHINGTON—United States Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joined Senators Jeff Merkley (R-OR), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Ben Cardin (D-MD) in introducing the Transnational Repression Policy Act, a bipartisan bill to establish a new U.S. policy to hold foreign governments accountable when they stalk, intimidate, or assault people across borders, including in the United States. The legislation would also help elevate countering transnational repression as an important foreign policy priority of the United States.
“As Communist China, Russia, Iran and other adversaries engage in transnational repression, the United States must make clear that it will never tolerate this malign extraterritorial behavior, especially on American soil,” said Senator Hagerty. “I’m pleased to support this bipartisan legislation to force transparency and accountability when malign actors violate our sovereignty and laws to harass and assault dissidents in the United States and around the world.”
“It’s terrible when authoritarian regimes oppress their people at home, but it’s an unacceptable act of aggression to target dissidents in other countries,” said Senator Merkley. “Journalists, writers, activists, and everyday people who have spoken truth to power in their country are too often intimidated and blackmailed while living abroad. The U.S. must take a stand and pursue a whole-of-government approach to address the rising tide of transnational repression whenever and wherever it occurs. This bill is a critical step in holding authoritarian governments accountable and providing safe haven to those fleeing repressive states.”
“While Uyghurs in Xinjiang continue to face the Chinese Communist Party’s genocidal campaign, exiles from the Uyghur, Tibetan, Falun Gong, Christian and Hong Kong communities, who have come to our nation for protection, are now targets of transnational repression,” said Senator Rubio. “The U.S. must devise a strategy to counter these criminal tactics and ensure that the CCP cannot harass or attack individuals on American soil.”
“It is past time for the United States to develop a comprehensive strategy to identify the perpetrators on trans-national repression and to deter them,” said Senator Cardin. “Our bill, when it becomes law, would move us decisively in the right direction.”
High profile examples of transnational repression include the hijacking and diversion of a plane by the Belarusian government to arrest an opposition activist/journalist, the poisoning of several former Russian intelligence officers residing in Britain, and a foiled plot by Iranian intelligence agents to abduct an Iranian American woman who is a Brooklyn-based Iranian journalist and prominent activist.
The most frequent perpetrator of transnational repression, however, is Communist China, which targets Uyghurs, Hong Kongers, Tibetans, dissidents, and others. Freedom House characterizes China’s campaign of transnational repression as “the most sophisticated, global, and comprehensive” in the world. In particular, the long arm of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and People’s Republic of China (PRC) government has reached Chinese dissidents on American soil. For example, in March 2022, the Department of Justice charged a PRC Ministry of State Security (MSS) employee with conspiracy for hiring a private investigator to harass and physically assault a pro-democracy Chinese activist who was running for U.S. Congress in Long Island. Intimidation and harassment tactics were used to prevent him from carrying out his campaign. In another recent Department of Justice case, a PRC citizen who is Massachusetts music student was indicted on connections to stalking and threatening an individual posting fliers in support of democracy in China.
To counter the “long arm” of authoritarian governments, the Transnational Repression Policy Act would:
- Include a transnational repression-specific section within the State Department’s Annual Human Rights Report.
- Require the Secretary of State along with other relevant heads of Federal departments and agencies to present a report to Congress on a U.S. strategy to address transnational repression and enhance international awareness of it.
- Require the Departments of State and Justice to work with civil society and the private sector on training for U.S. diplomatic personnel and domestic federal employees, respectively, on identifying and understanding transnational repression.
- Authorize funding for each Fiscal Year from 2024 to 2027 to develop curriculum for diplomatic personnel and domestic federal employees, respectively.
- Instruct the intelligence community to identify perpetrators of transnational repression and their tools, and share relevant information with like-minded partners.
- Establish a dedicated tip line for transnational repression reporting with the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, which would also do outreach to communities at risk.
- Require the President submit a list to Congress of foreign individuals who should have sanctions imposed on them because they, knowingly and unknowingly, directly engaged in transnational repression.
Full text of the legislation can be found here.