What you need to know
The 2019 Oslo Freedom Forum in Taipei focused on Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement among discussions of media freedom and authoritarian regimes around the world.
The Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) was held in Taipei for a second consecutive year on September 13, with a much larger audience and an impressive lineup of activists from around the world.
Some of the speakers included Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Denise Ho (何韻詩), high-ranking North Korean defector Thae Yong-ho (太永浩), Thai education reformer and activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, and dozens more who offered insightful discussions on topics such as creative dissent in Hong Kong and independent media in Asia.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement was in particular focus by the forum this year. The audience roared as Denise Ho walked on the stage.
Ho greeted the audience with the popular protest slogan in Cantonese, “Reclaim Hong Kong, the revolution of our times.” She then recounted the months-long protests in Hong Kong, highlighting the failure of “one country, two systems” as well as the persistence of pro-democracy protesters.
“This is a very widespread participation not only of the youngsters in the front lines but really everybody. We have elderly standing in front of the police. We have people from all walks of life joining in, also people coming to save the other people,” Ho said as she showed an image of the “Dunkirk airport evacuation” in Hong Kong.
After her speech, Taiwanese Legislator Freddy Lim (林昶佐) joined Ho on the stage with a Lennon Wall flag designed by Chinese dissident artist Badiucao (巴丟草), another panelist at the forum.
Lim, who recently left the New Power Party and warned against China's oppression, thanked Hongkongers for their continued bravery and wisdom in standing up against China’s authoritarian regime and inspiring others who have been watching their resilience.
“We have to stand with Hongkongers in our actions, proving to the world as well as to our own Taiwanese people that we can stand up for our values,” Lim said and called for Taiwanese to join a solidarity rally in Taipei on September 29 in support of Hong Kong.
In addition to calling for Hong Kong-Taiwan unity, Thai activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal cited how the Hong Kong protesters have inspired his peers to continue fighting against the military junta in Thailand, despite killings and oppression.
Fighting disinformation and state propaganda was also one of the major discussions at this year’s forum. Jesús Roldán, an editor of the Venezuelan political satire website El Chigüire Bipolar, described how comedic journalism has become a creative way to bypass censorship and criticize the “dancing dictator” Nicolás Maduro Moros.
Roldán said at least four million Venezuelans have fled the country. He and his publication humorously reported the exodus as Thanos disappearing half of the Venezuelan population with a snap of his fingers.
Often compared to The Onion, El Chigüire Bipolar has established a sizable readership that exceeds many of the state-run newspapers in Venezuela. Under the Venezuelan government’s increasing pressure on independent media, Venezuelans are now finding their voices through “real fake news.”
“Through funny headlines, we will bypass censorship and make people know the real story behind the joke,” Roldán said. “And if we manage to make people laugh in a dire situation like Venezuela’s, I think our work is done.”
According to Thor Halvorssen, the founder of the OFF, 96 percent of the world’s refugees are fleeing from authoritarianism and 25 of the 30 poorest countries in the world are ruled by authoritarian governments.
“Authoritarian governments are always at war, sometimes with a foreign power, but 100 percent of the time they are at war with their own people,” said Halvorssen.
He urged the audience not to ignore “the largest tyranny” in the world — the Chinese Communist Party. Halvorssen stated that China’s dictatorship has an economy based on slavery and “unfair practices masquerading as capitalism.”
“They’re building one of the most sophisticated surveillance states that has ever existed,” he said. “We see this whether it’s a social credit system or the creation of concentration camps. This is an issue that, unfortunately, Western democracies and Western governments are not addressing.”
It is then up to the civil society to pressure the government to act, Halvorssen said. He reminded the audience of Taiwan’s martial law period, when disappearances and arrests were the way of life, and cautioned against silence in the face of Beijing’s oppression.
Editor: Brian Hioe (@thenewslensintl)
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