In recent years, a number of countries have become more authoritarian warned the head of the Oslo Freedom Forum, Thor Halvorssen when the conference opened on Monday.
For the tenth consecutive year, the Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) has gathered leading opposition and activists from different corners of the world. Many of them struggle for the same thing: freedom and equality for all.
‘’Half the world’s population lives in authoritarian regimes. But there is very little being done to fight this around the world,’’ said the head and initiator of OFF, Norwegian-Venezuelan, Thor Halvorssen, when the conference opened with a full press conference on Monday.
He has a long list of countries where the situation has gone from bad to worse:Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are just a few examples.
But it is China, together with Russia, which are the biggest threat, Halvorssen believes.
“In Russia, Vladimir Putin tries to choke democracy,” he stated at the press conference.
“Putin is an immediate threat, while China is a long-term strategic threat,” said Russian Democrat and former chess champion, Garry Kasparov.
He is the chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, which arranges the Oslo Freedom Forum, which Kasparov believes is “the ultimate collection of dissidents in the world.”
“Here you get not only vague stories, but also see faces. These are real stories.It gives perspective. This is not about numbers, but about people,’’he said.
Among the participants are the North Korean emigre, Yeonmi Park, the young blogger,Farida Nabourema from Togo, Africa’s oldest dictatorship, singer and musician Mai Khoi from Vietnam, awarded this year’s Václav Havel Prize,and Maziar Bahari from Iran.
“We live in a very dangerous time,” said Bahari.
In Nicaragua, resistance to Daniel Ortega’s increasingly authoritarian regime has so far taken 76 young lives, while 868 were injured, 431 detained and an unknown number disappeared, said Edipcia Dubón.
Musician, activist and former child soldier, Emmanuel Jal from southern Sudan, where a civil war has been fought since 2013, uses hip hop to spread a political
message. He is now persona non grata in his native country.
“What we do here is to direct the spotlight to the darkest places, and so lower the wickedness. In my country you are free to talk. But once you’ve said what you want to say, you’re gone.’’
Yeonmi Park fled from North Korea via China and Mongolia in 1997. Now she hopes that the ongoing peace talks and meeting with the United States’ Donald Trump will show results.
“But North Korea is not just politics. 35 million people are isolated there, as slaves.
The most important thing Trump can do is to ensure that people get food,’’ she said to NTB news.
Technology as a weapon
New technology and the possibilities to avoid – or circumvent – surveillance are among the topics of this year’s conference. A special spotlight is to be shone on bitcoin, and technologies that enable, among other things, the exchange of information and making financial transactions without being tracked.
Other participants at the conference are the famous corruption activist Rafael Marques de Morais from Angola, historian and blogger Omar Mohammed from Iraq, who reported from Mosul during the IS occupation, and Fred and Cindy Warmbier, the parents of the American student Otto Warmbier who died last year after 17 months of captivity in North Korea.
© NTB scanpix / #Norway Today