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Oslo Freedom Forum Unites Human Rights Advocates as Authoritarians Form New Alliances
The dictators are uniting. So are we.
I've been to many conferences throughout my career, but there is one conference in particular that I look forward to attending every year: The Oslo Freedom Forum hosted by the Human Rights Foundation. What makes this conference special is not just the content and moving stories shared by many great activists and freedom fighters from all over the world, nor is it because of the high production value and excellent events this conference is known for. What really sets the Oslo Freedom Forum apart is the sense of community that those of us who have lived under tyrannical regimes are able to forge in just a few days of sharing one another's company. It doesn't matter where you come from or which complex challenges your country faces; you will always find that there's something we all have in common.
From Iraq, where I was born, to places like Ukraine or China, all of us who value freedom and the right to self-determination recognize the power of us all uniting in one place to break bread together, strategize and recharge. The work many of us do can be taxing at best, and dangerous at worst.
The theme of the conference this year was solidarity, which is particularly relevant as we see dictators and authoritarians coming together to form new alliances more and more these days. Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, and Tehran are not being subtle in their efforts to coalesce around a shared goal: unadulterated power. The Iranian government continues supplying Russia with drones in support of its invasion of Ukraine. China is selling surveillance technology to the Taliban in Afghanistan as well as the Islamic Republic in Iran to identify and punish women for not wearing a headscarf. The authoritarians are emboldening one another with each passing day. Freedom fighters have a responsibility to do the same in the face of these burgeoning threats. It is very easy to be desensitized to tragedy and human rights abuses with constant bad news pouring in through our phones every day, but we cannot become complacent if we hope to stand against stalwart authoritarian advances.
From the war in Ukraine, the potential invasion of Taiwan, and the sheer misery of the conflict in Sudan and many other places— it's really hard to think about the state of the world and have hope that something can be done to change it for the better.
This work does not come without high risks for those on the front lines, and, unlike Putin and Ali Khamenei, activists don’t have billions of dollars of funding and military power at their disposal. But there is hope still to be found. As people fight for their dignity and human rights in South Sudan and people continue to bravely protest against the religious tyranny of the Islamic Republic in Iran, tech companies are increasingly dedicating their time and resources to help activists and philanthropists in their struggle for human rights in their home countries.
Every day presents us with new challenges. We have the power to choose to focus on solutions. There are many days that feel like the foes we face are insurmountable. Days where giving up feels like the only option. Therein lies the importance of the Oslo Freedom Forum. Raising the spirits of activists engaging in the fight against tyranny is no small task. From Masih Alinejad, an Iranian American Journalist who lived for months under FBI protection after the Islamic Republic attempted to kidnap and kill her, to me, who was placed on an Al Qaeda death list at a very young age, to Leopoldo López, who was imprisoned for years in his home country of Venezuela— we all have baggage we bring with us almost everywhere. In Oslo this year, we were given the opportunity to set it down for a moment, remember that we’re not alone, and that freedom is worth the fight.
At the Oslo Freedom Forum, I haven’t just found friends; I’ve found a family.
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