Oct 19, 2022

Compromised Spaces Europe : Voices of Victims of Espionage and Reprisals in Europe

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization has hosted an exceptional conference alongside Green/EFA MEP Markéta Gregorova and Vice-President of the European Parliament Pina Picierno. The event took place in Strasbourg on October 18th, marking the release of our report on reprisals in Europe from foreign authoritarian governments against their own citizens living as refugees or exiles. It comes as more media attention is afforded to the People’s Republic of China’s decision to open police stations in foreign countries and drag pro-Hong Kong independence protesters inside their consulate in Manchester, UK. The report shows that this is just the tip of the iceberg and that authoritarian states, led by Iran, Russia and China, are regularly carrying out similar intimidation tactics and reprisals across Europe, and beyond.

The report gathers the testimonies of the victims of reprisals on European soil by foreign authoritarian governments. Some of the most prominent examples include the government of Iran’s campaign to intimidate diaspora members who criticize the regime. Crimean Tatars, since the invasion of Ukraine and before that the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, have also suffered reprisals from the Russian Federation.

UNPO’s Project Manager Shima Silavi commented : “I interviewed dozens of persons belonging to ethic minorities from Iran, Russia and PR China. Each of them shared their experience of reprisal. They are all people that paid a high price for standing up for human rights and the right of their people's self-determination. We think we are safe in Europe but the authoritarian states are succeeding at home, so they are taking their fight abroad. Addressing these reprisals is not just important for the victims but for societies as a whole.”

Types of reprisals include counterespionage, online threats, physical intimidation, assassination, kidnapping and attempts to recruit activists and create discord within activist communities.

The report demonstrates that the impact of these reprisals are far and wide in European society : Europeans themselves for example feel less safe knowing foreign agents are capable of reprisals at any time. Activism is hamstrung by fears of reprisals and communication between the refugee and their loved ones back home becomes difficult.

So far the EU has found it difficult to achieve a proper coordinated response to these acts. UNPO is calling upon EU Member-States and officials to design a series of measures to tackle reprisals on their soil. For the EU, we call on them to initiate formal studies into the problem of foreign state reprisals on European soil, creating a Directive on Refugee Espionage modeled on the EU Counter-Terrorism Directive, and create mechanisms within Eurojust to facilitate cooperation among other actions that can be taken at Community level. For European Member-States, law reforms to enable the criminalization of refugee espionage and to provide adequate means of civil redress for victims – including tackling the issue of sovereign immunity for foreign agents.

UNPO thanks the Members of the European Parliament hosting us for their engagement in the issue and the activists that came forward for the report.