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In the United States, foreign governments like China and Iran are taking extreme measures to intimidate, harass, and sometimes plot attacks against political opponents and activists who live in the U.S. These actions reflect the frightening consequences that geopolitical tensions can have for citizens as governments intolerant of dissent within their own borders increasingly keep a threatening watch on those who speak out thousands of miles away. The U.S. Justice Department has charged dozens of suspects with acts of transnational repression in the past five years, indicating a rise in government-directed harassment which includes hiring proxies like private investigators and organized crime leaders.

The tactics used by these foreign adversaries have grown more sophisticated, with countries more willing to cross into violence as they seek to project power abroad and stifle dissent. The Justice Department has made prosecuting these cases a priority to hold harassers accountable and send a message that such actions are unacceptable in terms of U.S. sovereignty and defending American values of free expression and association. Other countries have also seen a rise in cases of transnational repression, with London identified as a “hotspot” for Iranian attacks on Persian-language broadcasters and Russia often blamed for harassment and attacks targeting Russians living in Europe.

Individuals living in the U.S. have faced harassment campaigns from countries like China and Iran, including Chinese expatriates being tracked down under China’s “Operation Fox Hunt” and Iranian schemes to kidnap and silence dissidents. Chinese American Christian pastor Bob Fu has experienced various forms of harassment for years, including large demonstrations outside his home and bogus bomb threats. The end goal of such harassment is often to suppress overseas pro-democracy activists, as in the case of former Chinese student leader Wu Jianmin, who was targeted by protesters outside his home in California.

Some plots involving violence have also been disrupted, such as an Iranian operative being charged with offering $300,000 to eliminate Trump administration national security adviser John Bolton in retaliation for an airstrike. A recent threat involved a murder-for-hire plot targeting Iranians living in Maryland, with plans to erase their heads from their torsos. Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, who was the target of a kidnapping plot, remains determined to keep speaking out despite the chilling details that emerged from the criminal cases against those involved. The FBI disrupted the plot against Alinejad, but she was encouraged to move for her safety, saying goodbye to her beloved garden and neighbors as a result.

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