The Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) is a thriving global community
of people who share the common vision of making the world a more free and open
place. The seventh annual forum took place on May 25-27.
The 2015 theme was Living in Truth, a tribute to
the late Czech dissident-turned-president Václav Havel, who showed the world
how even ordinary individuals can force authoritarian systems to crumble.
Speakers from 20 countries, including Gabon, Malaysia, Mexico, North Korea,
Thailand, Turkey, Tunisia, and Ukraine, united in Oslo to share their stories
with more than 300 conference attendees.
The 2015 forum featured three days of talks, debates,
performances, and art exhibitions. After a press event featuring Human Rights
Foundation chairman Garry Kasparov and the 2015 speakers, attendees had the
opportunity to join in two workshops designed to educate and empower human
rights advocates. Serbian nonviolence expert Srdja Popovic led a session on
peaceful resistance, with breakout sessions focused on specific successful
techniques used by protest movements around the world. A second workshop focused
on how to build online advocacy campaigns, with speakers from CNN, Indiegogo,
and Upworthy sharing new techniques and ideas for activists. Following the
workshop, we hosted a discussion on corruption in petro-states from Angola to
Kazakhstan to Nigeria to Venezuela. The panel, chaired by BBC presenter
Philippa Thomas, included Financial Times investigative correspondent Tom
Burgis, Magnitsky Act originator Bill Browder, Venezuelan political scientist
Gustavo Coronel, and Angolan journalist and anti-corruption advocate Rafael
Marques de Angola.
The 2015 forum also included new ways to engage with the OFF
community, including a tech lab featuring experts in encryption, digital
security, anti-surveillance, and information access from the Electronic
Frontier Foundation, Outernet, Rift Recon, and Wickr.
The forum also included special exhibitions by artists from
around the world. Afghan graffiti artist
Shamsia Hassani created a mural in Oslo’s
Spikesuppa Park, which was displayed throughout the event. Norwegian cartoonist
Øistein Kristiansen showcased his
caricatures of various dictators and drew portraits of this year’s speakers.
Albanian installation artist
Anila Rubiku created an interactive
exhibit building on her “Effacing Memory” project, in which she etches
portraits of dictators and then painstakingly erases them to dismantle the
power they maintain through images and memory. As part of the exhibit, OFF
attendees had the chance to join in and “deface” portraits of tyrants to
challenge their hold on arbitrary power. Artist
Ian Sklarsky drew portraits of the speakers using
the blind contour technique, drawing his subjects without looking at the paper
or lifting his pen, and his art was featured around the event.
Following the opening musical performance by The Wanton Bishops on Tuesday, May 26, Norwegian foreign minister Børge Brende joined us at the Oslo Nye Theater to introduce the first session, followed by talks on the communications revolution, the right to offend, and more. Speakers included Malaysian MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, Twitter vice president Colin Crowell, Iranian comedian Kambiz Hosseini, Afghan entrepreneur Saad Mohseni, Charlie Hebdo columnist Zineb el Rhazoui, and North Korean refugee Ji Seong-ho, who received a standing ovation at the end of his emotional talk.
American singer and songwriter Erin Willett opened the second day of the conference before former president of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko took the stage. Other speakers include Moroccan writer, filmmaker, and gay rights advocate Abdellah Taia, Gabonese environmentalist Marc Ona Essangui, Stanford professor Larry Diamond, and Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol. After lunch, attendees and those watching the livestream had the chance to participate in an interactive on-stage discussion with a panel of OFF speakers by submitting questions via Twitter to @OsloFF. Hosted by Al Jazeera presenter Femi Oke, the panel included Mustafa Akyol, Mustafa Akyol, British-Indian author Kenan Malik, Indonesian stand-up comedian and Havel Prize laureate Sakdiyah Ma’ruf, and American litigator Kimberley Motley. Following the panel, Palestinian-American comedian Mo Amer took the stage to do a standup routine.
OFF closed with the presentation of the 2015 Václav
Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent
. The prize celebrates those
who, with bravery and ingenuity, unmask the lie of dictatorship by living in
were the Sudanese nonviolent resistance movement Girifna,
Indonesian stand-up comedian Sakdiyah Ma’ruf, and Cuban graffiti artist and
activist Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado, who was honored in absentia as he was
jailed in Cuba. Cuban artist Lia Villares, a member of El Sexto’s art
collective, accepted the prize on his behalf.