“And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.”
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Common techniques of repression:
1. Repression of Activities: This includes a package of measures, often codified in an unusual legal framework that prohibits certain behaviours. For example, the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) in Zimbabwe defines every gathering of five or more people as a public and political meeting, which requires special police authorization to be legally carried out. The purpose of these measures is to decrease the political space available to the movement, and to increase various organizational and operational costs to the movement.
2. Repression of Individuals: Threatening individuals, tapping their phones, arresting and imprisoning activists, as well as beating, torturing and sometimes even killing activists, serves a different purpose than repressing activities—it serves to scare off any additional people who might have joined the resistance and helps break apart the leadership of the movement. More than most opponents’, nondemocratic regimes have specialized in specifically targeting key individuals, with the hope that their fate will have a demonstration effect on others. Frequently this includes targeting family members, including children.
3. Creating an Atmosphere of Fear: Nondemocratic regimes tend to invest heavily in creating an atmosphere of fear around those activities they perceive as threatening to their hold on power. With careful planning, these regimes repress individuals and activities, and use relentless regime-sponsored propaganda to create a “siege atmosphere” against the movement. In this environment, everyone with a different point of view than the regime is a terrorist and a traitor.
“Political repression is the persecution of an individual or group within society for political reasons, particularly for the purpose of restricting or preventing their ability to take part in the political life of a society thereby reducing their standing among their fellow citizens.”
As a movement gains strength, the opponent will tend to feel that he is growing weaker. Generally, the opponent will try to neutralize a movement by destroying the morale of its members and take other actions that decrease the social and individual demand for change. Also, the opponent may attempt to increase the costs of running an effective movement. Disrupting communication is one of the most effective ways to do this.
By clamping down on the movement’s public activities, arresting its activists, and creating an atmosphere of fear, the costs to the movement and to the activists themselves increase. The opponent calculates that if the costs are high enough, then the supply of the movement’s activists will decrease and eventually disappear.
Sanctions have two effects. The smaller effect is punishing the “guilty” individuals. The larger effect, and the main purpose of sanctions, is not to punish individuals, but to prevent others from also disobeying. By “setting the example” of being punished, the opponent sends the message that the price for noncooperation will be high.