In this edition of Freedom in Focus, you’ll learn more about the Human Rights Foundation (HRF)’s recent efforts and achievements. In advancing our mission, we’ve celebrated the release of two longtime community members; shed light on Vladimir Putin’s atrocious war in Ukraine and the use of Uyghur forced labor in the fashion industry; and provided essential funding to developers, human rights defenders, and educators in closed societies.
As our impact grows, we want to acknowledge that our accomplishments are only made possible by the support, solidarity, and commitment of our community. By supporting HRF, you help popularize and strengthen the movement for democracy across the globe.
Thank you for helping us make the world more peaceful, prosperous, and free.
Release of Activists Félix Maradiaga and Paul Rusesabagina
Maradiaga — a Nicaraguan democracy activist, former presidential candidate, and Oslo Freedom Forum speaker — and 221 other political prisoners were exiled to the United States on Feb. 10. Maradiaga’s activism and criticism of Daniel Ortega’s regime led to his detainment in June 2021, after which he was held in solitary confinement and sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Rusesabagina — a Rwandan human rights activist and the real-life “Hotel Rwanda” hero — was released on March 24. A staunch critic of Rwanda’s dictator Paul Kagame, Rusesabagina was kidnapped and arbitrarily detained in August 2020. For two and a half years, he was brutally tortured and denied access to a lawyer of his choice and medicine, despite his deteriorating health.
During their detainments, HRF provided their family a platform to advocate for their release. Maradiaga’s wife, Berta Valle, and Rusesabagina’s daughter, Carine Kanimba, shared their loved ones’ stories on the Oslo Freedom Forum stage. HRF welcomes their release and demands that the Ortega and Kagame regimes are held accountable for their gross human rights violations.
HRF in Times Square for New York Fashion Week
During New York Fashion Week, HRF highlighted the prevalence of Uyghur forced labor within the fashion industry in one of the most iconic fashion centers: Times Square. Our billboard — emblazoned with “End Uyghur Forced Labor” and a QR code linking to HRF’s Uyghur Forced Labor Checker — aimed to raise awareness of how the fashion industry contributes to the Uyghur genocide and empower consumers to make informed, ethical purchases.
HRF at SXSW 2023
Last month, HRF brought the struggle for freedom to Austin, Texas, at South by Southwest (SXSW), the world’s largest creative conference.
HRF exhibited our Discounted Lives installation, revealing the hidden costs of fast fashion on the Uyghur people arbitrarily detained and forced to work in the industry. Two sets of white T-shirts were on display, differing only in price. The accompanying receipts featured photos of Uyghur detainees and details about the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Chinese government, challenging attendees to think twice about their daily purchasing decisions.
HRF also hosted two panels at SXSW. Dictatorships in the Digital Space explored how dictators manipulate technology and how the tech industry can unite to protect human rights globally; and Fighting Back Against Monetary Colonialism discussed battles against monetary colonialism and how Bitcoin can empower activists in the region.
HRF is thrilled to return to Oslo from June 13-15 to celebrate 15 years of the Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF). This year’s theme, Celebrating Solidarity, honors the connections, mentorship, and support fostered by the Forum since it began in 2009 and calls for continued unity in the global struggle against authoritarianism. Through inspiring keynote talks, interactive workshops, and creative exhibits, OFF brings together activists, technologists, journalists, and more to brainstorm ways to build a more free and peaceful world.
We are pleased to welcome brave changemakers to our main stage, including Félix Maradiaga, migrant workers’ rights activist Malcolm Bidali, American political scientist and author Francis Fukuyama, Iranian actress and human rights activist Nazanin Boniadi, Malagasy anti-corruption and democracy activist Ketakandriana Rafitoson, Venezuelan journalist and former political prisoner Víctor Navarro, and Cuban journalist Abraham Jiménez Enoa.
New Bitcoin Grants in Closed Societies
In the first quarter of 2023, HRF’s Bitcoin Development Fund granted two billion satoshis — approximately $475,000 — to developers and educators working to make the Bitcoin network more secure, decentralized, and resilient. HRF supported 10 projects, mainly in Africa and Southeast Asia. Notable grantees include:
Qala, a fellowship program that trains the next generation of African Bitcoin and lightning developers
Vasil Dimov for his work enhancing Bitcoin’s privacy, stability, and decentralization
Bitcoin Myanmar for financial freedom education in Burma
HRF continues to support Bitcoin education in West Africa, where dictators and monetary colonialism continue to restrict African financial freedom. In December, HRF co-sponsored the first-ever Africa Bitcoin Conference, the largest Bitcoin-focused conference on the continent. We renewed our support to the conference in this granting cycle and aim to continue educating about the power of Bitcoin in Africa in 2023.
College Freedom Forum Returns to Guatemala
For the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, HRF returned to the Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala (UFM) to host its sixth edition of the College Freedom Forum (CFF). Hosted at universities across the globe, CFF aims to educate and inspire the next generation of human rights defenders.
This year’s conference connected Guatemalan students with dissidents, including: Omar Alshogre, a Syrian human rights activist and the director for Detainee Affairs at the Syrian Emergency Task Force; Génesis Dávila, a Venezuelan lawyer and the founder of Defiende Venezuela; and Víctor Navarro, an ex-prisoner of conscience and executive director of Voces de la Memoria.
HRF Calls for Investigation into Death of Thulani Maseko
On Jan. 21, Swazi human rights lawyer and OFF speaker Thulani Maseko was assassinated at the order of King Mswati III’s regime. HRF condemns the assassination and honors Maseko for his unwavering commitment to nonviolent action and the defense of human rights in Eswatini.
Days afterward, HRF’s Impact Litigation team filed a letter to the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, and the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, asking for a credible, independent investigation into his death.
Supporting Human Rights in North Korea
In February, HRF announced five new grants to civil society organizations in South Korea working to shed light on human rights violations in North Korea and assist defectors with resettlement.
$28,000 to North Korea Strategy Center to extract information about the regime to shed light on human rights violations in North Korea.
$25,000 to EUM Research Institute to provide human rights education for female North Korean defectors during the resettlement process.
$25,000 to NoChain for North Korea to increase understanding of liberal democracy and market economy among North Koreans through the inflow of external information.
$20,000 to North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity to produce and smuggle “resistance music” inside North Korea to educate North Korean people about human rights.
$10,000 to North Korean Human Rights Association to increase public awareness in South Korea about North Korean human rights issues.
Since coming on board last summer, Director of Korea Desk and North Korean defector Seongmin Lee has bolstered HRF’s existing partnerships in Seoul and facilitated new connections with civil society organizations, key policymakers, and government officials.
Lee has also helped us send thousands of flash drives and SD cards into North Korea through HRF’s Flash Drives for Freedom (FDFF) program, which aims to disrupt channels of disinformation propagated by Kim Jong-un. In the first three months of 2023, we sent more than 2,600 flash drives to North Korea. To date, we’ve sent more than 130,000.
There are many ways to support our community and the ongoing struggle against tyranny. As a charitable nonprofit organization, HRF is able to conduct our work thanks to the generosity of committed individuals like you.
Shop at our HRF Store
Donate stock by emailing [email protected]
Donate your USB sticks for Flash Drives for Freedom
Register for OFF 2023