HOW is this possible or acceptable? I’m sure that was the question many of you asked yourself recently when news broke that a Ryanair passenger flight was forced to land in the Belarus capital Minsk so that dissident journalist and critic of President Alexander Lukashenko, Roman Protasevic could be arrested.

Since then, Protasevic now languishes in a Belarus jail where he is said to have been tortured and could yet be moved to a prison in Moscow where one can only guess at what his fate might be.

That a civilian airliner could be forced to redirect to enable an authoritarian regime to silence an opposition voice is of course beyond the pale in terms of breaching international law and to some extent the chorus of global outrage and condemnation that followed reflected that.

But already that chorus is quietening until the next time when something similar happens. And happen again it will, that much is certain given what is now a growing trend towards transnational repression that appears to go largely unchecked.

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And what exactly do I mean by transnational repression? Well, put quite simply one only has to cast an eye across the world right now to see that authoritarian regimes are brazenly asserting their control at home by picking off or persecuting dissenting voices who seek refuge abroad – no matter where they might be.

As human rights and advocacy group Freedom House summed it up in the title of their recent report, the victims of this repression might be Out of Sight, Not out of Reach.

As the group highlighted too, the methods used to silence dissent among diasporas and exiles ranges from assassinations, illegal deportations and abductions to digital threats, Interpol abuse, and family intimidation. In all the Freedom House 2021 report details at least 608 cases of physical cross-border repression since 2014.

The manipulation of Interpol is especially worrying. While Interpol’s rules forbid the system’s abuse for political ends, it has little capacity to check the flood of requests it receives. In 2019 alone, Interpol disseminated more than 13,000 Red Notices, which countries use to ask for other governments’ assistance in locating and arresting individuals sometimes – though often undeclared – for purely political reasons.

And don’t for a minute think such pernicious activities are confined to states that are simply allies of other repressive regimes, for these assaults take place everywhere including in democracies like the UK, Germany, US, Canada, and Australia to name but a few.

Most of the victims will be people many of us will have never heard of before. People like Mamikhan Umarov, a Chechen exile who had criticised the regime of leader Ramzan Kadyrov, and who was shot and killed last year in a Vienna suburb, the third Chechen killed in apparent assassinations in Europe in a year.

Others are perhaps a bit better known, such as Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero of the Oscar-nominated film Hotel Rwanda, who was also abducted last August by Rwandan government officials while he was traveling through the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

After being held at least three days incommunicado, Rusesabagina was charged with supporting terrorism and is awaiting trial.

The National: Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Perhaps the best known, and most shocking case of recent times of course was the brutal 2018 killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (above) in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul at the hands of a hit squad dispatched by the government in Riyadh.

Most of us too will know of Russia’s willingness to go after perceived enemies abroad especially former “insiders” and members of the political opposition.

In recent years, high-profile assassinations linked to Russian agents have made headlines around the world, and as the online news portal Meduza recently highlighted, the Kremlin has developed a reputation for abusing the Interpol notice system.

Then, too, we have China’s relentless persecution of Uighurs and Tibetans beyond its borders adding to the long arm of the authoritarian states’ pursuit of transnational repression.

The National: Xi Jinping is arriving for a four-day state visit hailed by David Cameron as a symbol of the "golden era" in relations with China

SO why is this so prevalent now and what can be done about such abuses?

In answering this the first thing to recognise is that targeted killings and abductions overseas has a long history. As someone who for years was involved in the anti-apartheid movement, I well remember the racist South African government’s willingness to target activists in exile. The killing of activist Ruth First using a letter bomb in Maputo, Mozambique in 1982 is but one example.

Today though transnational repression has become more commonplace for two reasons. The first is that in this digital age those opposition activists far from their homeland can continue to pose a real threat, messaging and rallying support worldwide.

The other reason quite simply is that such transgressions by certain regimes is driven by the growing sense of impunity among the word’s autocrats. Not only do they firmly believe that citizens of their own country who oppose them are their sole responsibility to deal with as they choose, but that borders, and the sovereignty of other nations should not get in their way.

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As Nate Schenkkan, director of research strategy at Freedom House recently pointed out, these regimes have cleverly adapted and taken advantage of globalised systems of travel, data sharing, migration, and law enforcement, to help hunt down their targets and victims.

That such systems involve substantial levels of global cooperation and coordination and rely on a high degree of “mutual deference among governments”, not to mention trade-offs and deals only complicates formulating a preventative response.

That said, a response there must be and now more than ever, for the dangers of allowing transnational repression to become “normalised” are obvious. That there is a moral imperative goes without saying just as in the same way the democratic structures vital to political freedom need to be protected not allowed to become irrevocably eroded.

As Scotland looks to becoming a sovereign country and likewise starts to think of the nation it wants to be, we must show our willingness and commitment to push back against the long arm of authoritarian states.

As a prospective individual member of the international community, we must speak out loud and make clear that transnational repression has no place in our vision for Scotland as a fair and just society or the global community of which we desire to be a part.