Press release

Iran: Plot to Kidnap American Writer Highlights Threat of Transnational Repression

An Iranian intelligence official and his network stands accused of surveilling an Iranian American author and members of her household while trying to pay relatives living in Iran to lure her out of the United States

In response to the indictment of four Iranians, including an intelligence official, for their alleged plot to kidnap Iranian American author Masih Alinejad, Freedom House issued the following statement:

“The Iranian government’s plot to kidnap Masih Alinejad, a citizen and resident of the United States, is a flagrant case of transnational repression and a reminder of the importance of strong law enforcement action to counter authoritarian threats in the United States,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “The threat to Alinejad and her family is, tragically, one that thousands of exiles and émigrés from authoritarian regimes know all too well. Authoritarian states aim to exert ever-greater control beyond their borders through the threat of surveillance, assault, kidnapping, and even assassination of those who might speak out or act against these regimes. We applaud the FBI for investigating and the Department of Justice for bringing this case, and we encourage US law enforcement to continue to hold perpetrators of transnational repression criminally accountable for their actions.”


In an indictment unsealed in a US federal court on July 13th, four Iranians were charged with conspiring to kidnap Iranian American journalist and author Masih Alinejad, while an Iranian residing in the United States was accused of supporting the conspiracy. The indictment describes a plot that included attempts to lure Alinejad, an American citizen, to a third country to capture her and forcibly render her to Iran. In June 2020, Alinejad wrote about the Iranian government’s social-media campaign against her, which included calls for her abduction.

As a journalist in Iran, Alinejad was targeted for exposing corruption during the administration of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Following numerous threats of arrest and assault, she was eventually forced to flee Iran in 2009.

The Iranian regime’s expansive definition of who constitutes a threat to the Islamic Republic contributes to the breadth and intensity of its transnational-repression campaign. Since 2014, the regime has been linked to five assassinations or attempts in three countries, while plots were thwarted in at least two others. The authorities frequently label the targeted dissidents and journalists as terrorists, using the term as a blanket justification for violence and disregard for due process. The campaign incorporates the full spectrum of transnational-repression tactics, including assassination, rendition, detention, unlawful deportation, abuse of the Interpol notice system, digital intimidation, spyware, coercion by proxy, and mobility controls. These tools have been deployed against Iranians in at least nine countries in Europe, the Middle East, and North America.

Iran is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2021 and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2020.