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Photo: “Bashar al-Assad (2017-11-21) 02,” by licensed under CC Attribution 4.0 International. Hue modified from the original.

Moss, Dana M., Marcus Michaelsen, and Gillian Kennedy. “Going after the family: Transnational repression and the proxy punishment of Middle Eastern diasporas.” Global Networks (2022).


Diasporas play a critical role in home-country politics by supporting social, political, and economic change therein. Yet, regimes countermobilize against activists abroad by repressing their diasporas. This paper investigates a widespread but overlooked method in the transnational repression toolkit: that of ‘proxy punishment’, that is, the abuse of family members at home as a means to manipulate and subjugate dissidents abroad. Using 246 original interviews with diaspora activists from Syria, Iran, Egypt, and Libya, the analysis demonstrates that regimes deployed five tactics against diaspora members’ non-activist families at home: harm and confinement, threats and harassment, forced participation in regime propaganda and slander, resource deprivation, and travel bans. We then identify the mechanisms shaping how diaspora members responded to this repertoire. The paper concludes with implications for research on transnational diaspora activism, globalized authoritarianism, and collective dimensions of the repression-dissent nexus.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.