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In this edition of Freedom in Focus, we are excited to share our biggest wins and achievements over the last few months. In addition to hosting the 15th edition of OFF, we advocated for human rights defenders unjustly persecuted by dictatorships and  provided grants to open-source software developers making digital tools for dissidents, and exposed human rights violations in UN member states.

Our growing community empowers us to infiltrate the most oppressive regimes and sow the seeds of activism and dissent. Because of you, HRF remains at the forefront of the global movement against tyranny. Together, we are making a measurable difference and building a future where freedom and human rights prevail.

The 2023 Oslo Freedom Forum: Celebrating Solidarity

From June 13 to 15, our community of human rights defenders gathered in Oslo to celebrate 15 years of solidarity. More than 1,300 activists, philanthropists, students, journalists, academics, and innovators came together to share insights, jumpstart projects, and brainstorm strategies to drive the global struggle for freedom.

On the mainstage, global activists and civil society leaders shared stories of hope and resistance, calling for collective action, accountability, and justice. Speakers included Pastor Seungeun Kim, a South Korean pastor who rescues North Korean defectors through his modern “underground railroad”; Iranian actress and human rights activist Nazanin Boniadi; and Víctor Navarro, a Venezuelan journalist and former prisoner of El Helicoide, Venezuela’s largest and most notorious torture center.

Meaningful discussions continued in our afternoon panels and workshops, covering hostage-taking, photojournalism in conflict zones, and mental health, among other topics. Interactive programming continued on the final day of OFF, held for the first time at SALT, a fjord-side cultural village overlooking the Oslo Opera House.

Throughout the Forum, we also showcased activists’ causes in creative and interactive exhibitions. In collaboration with HRF’s Wear Your Values program, award-winning Chinese-Swedish fashion designer Louise Xin hosted a unique fashion show calling attention to the rampant human rights abuses in the fashion industry. The fashion show received great reviews by the audience, and was featured in Vogue Scandinavia, shining a spotlight on the injustice of forced labor in the Uyghur region.

Upcoming Events: 2023 Oslo Freedom Forum in New York and Taiwan

On Sept. 28, OFF in New York will return to The Town Hall for a half-day event featuring theater talks and performances by the world’s top dissidents. Theater programming will be followed by a special Speaker Gala at the Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room, a unique opportunity to connect with OFF speakers and community members.

We’re also thrilled to hold the fourth OFF in Taiwan later this year on October 18th. Stay tuned for more information.

The Fight for Vladimir Kara-Murza’s Release

Vladimir Kara-Murza is a Russian opposition politician, democracy advocate, and longtime community member. Kara-Murza has long been a target of the Russian government for his criticism of Vladimir Putin, surviving two near-fatal poisoning attempts by Russian officials. After speaking out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Kara-Murza was arrested in April 2022. A year later, he was sentenced to 25 years for high treason and “spreading deliberately false information” about Russia’s armed forces and participating in the actions of an “undesirable” organization. Kara-Murza’s deteriorating health is of great concern to the global community.

For years, HRF has backed Kara-Murza’s struggle for democracy and accountability in Russia. In Oslo, New York, and Taipei, he shared his vision for a democratic Russia on the OFF stage. After he was arrested, Evgenia joined us in Oslo to read a letter her husband penned while in prison. At this year’s OFF, attendees collaborated on a live mural of Kara-Murza — a tribute to his sacrifices and commitment to creating a freer world.

Last month, HRF filed an Urgent Appeal to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf as well as a submission to the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, human rights defenders, and independence of judges and lawyers. HRF will continue to advocate tirelessly for his release and hold Putin’s regime accountable for its egregious human rights violations.

UN Calls for Release of Saudi Women's Rights Activists

Earlier this month, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) issued an opinion on the cases of Salma al-Shehab and Nourah al-Qahtani, two Saudi women’s rights activists who were arrested in 2021 by Saudi officials for their tweets supporting Saudi women. The UNWGAD determined their detention to be arbitrary and called for their immediate release.

Al-Shehab and al-Qahtani were arbitrarily detained after criticizing the kingdom on Twitter for its appalling human rights record. Following their arrests, both were denied their right to a fair trial; al-Shehab was initially denied access to legal counsel altogether and was held in an undisclosed location for almost two weeks following her arrest. Al-Shehab was sentenced to 34 years in prison and al-Qahtani to 45 years on charges related to undermining and harming public order.

In its opinion, the UNWGAD found that al-Shehab and al-Qahtani were denied due process, sentenced to severe and disproportionate punishments, and discriminated against for their activism, gender, and religion. The Working Group further called on Saudi authorities to conduct an independent investigation into the women’s cases and revise its Anti-Terrorism Law to meet the requirements of due process and a fair trial.

The decision came after HRF — along with ALQST for Human Rights, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), Freedom Initiative, and MENA Rights Group — submitted a complaint to the Working Group and requested an opinion on the two cases last December. HRF welcomes the Working Group’s opinion and reiterates its calls for accountability and justice.

HRF at Bitcoin 2023

In May, members of HRF’s team traveled to Miami, Fla., for Bitcoin 2023, the world’s largest Bitcoin event, to spread awareness about Bitcoin’s role in securing financial freedom and human rights.

HRF Chief Strategy Officer spoke on the main stage in front of thousands of attendees about how money is used as a weapon by corrupt governments against their people, and how individuals are escaping with open source code.

Hundreds visited HRF’s expo booth to learn more about how our Bitcoin Development Fund supports developers and educators around the globe making the Bitcoin network more resilient. In May, the Fund gifted $455,000 to 12 grantees, focusing on improving Bitcoin scaling, privacy, decentralization, and censorship-resistant communication.

We also brought our mission to Bitcoin Prague, where Financial Freedom Associate Arsh Molu told thousands about our Financial Freedom work on the mainstage. This year, our Financial Freedom program has brought the HRF team to cities around the world, including Bangkok, Thailand; San José, Costa Rica; and Washington, D.C.

Assessing the Human Rights Scorecards of UN Member States

Through Universal Periodic Reviews (UPRs), NGOs and civil society organizations submit contributions and recommendations to the United Nations Human Rights Council, calling for assessments of member states’ human rights situations. This month, HRF’s Legal and Policy Team submitted three UPRs on the Republic of Congo, Malaysia, and Senegal, focusing on arbitrary arrests and detentions, extrajudicial killings, and freedom of expression and association.

HRF continues to highlight the human rights records of dictatorships by exposing instances of targeting and silencing opposition leaders, journalists, artists, and dissidents. To date, HRF has submitted 35 UPR contributions against authoritarian regimes.

Take Action

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.

Donate today

Shop at our HRF Store

– Donate stock by emailing [email protected]

Donate Bitcoin

Donate your USB sticks for Flash Drives for Freedom

Register for OFF in New York

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