Human rights advocates from around the world yesterday gathered at the first Asia-based Oslo Freedom Forum in Taipei to discuss their struggles with suppression and authoritarian regimes, saying that Taiwan could be an “island of hope” for the rest of Asia.
The forum was organized by the New York-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF), with funding from the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, to bring its experience in Norway since 2009 to Asia to create a regional resource center for people who fight for human rights and freedoms, HRF chief strategy officer Alex Gladstein said.
People living in relatively free countries like Taiwan or the US sometimes take things for granted and forget that there are 4 billion people in the world who do not have access to independent media or judiciaries, Gladstein said.
“We are here to make a big global reminder that we are lucky and we should not take our rights and freedoms for granted,” Gladstein said.
The forum featured nine human rights campaigners and journalists, including Egyptian actor and LGBT rights activist Omar Sharif Jr, Russian dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza, who has survived two assassination attempts, Vietnamese singer and activist Mai Khoi, and Bahraini poet Aayat Alqormozi, who was jailed for reading poems critical of her government at a 2011 Arab Spring rally.
Sharif, who came out as gay in 2012, said he originally thought the revelation of his long-held secret would bring relief, only to be assaulted with an outpouring of hateful messages and death threats, which prompted him to leave his country.
Three years later, Sharif gave his first Arabic-language TV interview “as an open, proud and visible gay man,” he said, adding that the interview was viewed by about 24 million people.
Sharif said he had prepared himself for another “onslaught of hate,” but instead he received an unexpectedly strong wave of support after the interview, which made him believe that stories hold strength and that his story could help others feel less alone.
“After nearly being drowned in a sea of hatred, I now stand on an island of hope. Taiwan has an opportunity to prove that love will conquer hate,” he said.
Just two weeks before Taiwanese are to vote in five referendums that could determine the nation’s stance toward legalizing same-sex marriage, Sharif urged people to vote so that LGBT people “will finally count.”
China’s persecution of Muslim Uighurs was also a focus of the forum.
BuzzFeed News international correspondent Megha Rajagopalan said that China has systematically established a high-tech police state in Xinjiang that made nearly every aspect of ordinary life impossible for Uighurs, holding 1 million people at re-eduction camps and subjecting millions of others to surveillance, calling the region an “open-air prison.”
As China has made its surveillance technology cheaper and more accessible, authorities in Ecuador have also installed facial recognition cameras to help “fight crime,” a situation that is also spreading to places like Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Malaysia, Rajagopalan said.
She concluded her speech with a soul-searching question asked by a female Uighur refugee she once interviewed who has to live with the guilt of leaving her two children behind because the Chinese regime has threatened to place her in a re-education camp if she ever returned.
“Does the rest of the world care enough to act on this?” she asked. “Do we?”
Another speaker at the forum was North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho, who in 2006 escaped his famine-plagued country after seeing his grandmother die of starvation, and losing a hand and a leg while trying to steal coal to trade for food from a train cart.
“After giving my father a hug and agreeing that we should try to see each other soon, I fled my country through the Tumen River that borders China. I nearly drowned several times, after which I walked 10,000km across China to Laos, Burma and Thailand with the support of a pair of crutches,” he said.
Ji said that he learned after arriving in South Korea that his father had been tortured to death by North Korean secret police following a failed escape attempt.
Ji later established an organization in the hope of changing the situation in North Korea and has so far helped 340 North Korean women who fell victim to human trafficking.
Holding high the crutches that his father had made that helped his escape, Ji said: “These crutches symbolize my journey to freedom and my unwillingness to give up... I would do my best from where I stand to bring freedom to North Korea.”
KEEP AWAY: People should wear a mask in places where they cannot follow social distancing rules, the CECC said, adding that it would publish detailed guidelines today The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday announced 16 new cases of COVID-19, including two domestic cases, as it urged people to practice social distancing in public spaces by keeping a distance of at least 1m when outdoors and 1.5m indoors. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said that seven of the new cases tested positive upon their arrival at the airport, four were under home quarantine, one was under home isolation and two were under self-health management, while the two domestic cases sought treatment on their own. The domestic cases are a man in his
Taiwan will negotiate with the WHO about its participation without Beijing’s help and intervention as more countries, including Australia and Japan, are partnering with Taiwan to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a telephonic roundtable with reporters on Monday also supported Taiwan’s role in the WHO, saying the US Department of State would do its best to assist Taiwan’s “appropriate role” in the world’s highest health policy setting body, Voice of America reported. In a Japan Business Press report published on Sunday, Chinese Ambassador to Japan Kong Xuanyou (孔鉉佑) said
‘HEROIC’: A lack of personal protective equipment has led to high infection rates among health workers in places like Spain and Italy, a nurses’ association said More equipment is needed to protect the world’s nurses working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic to save lives, the head of the International Council of Nurses (ICN) said. “They are heroic. I think there is no other way to describe what they are doing at this moment,” said Howard Catton, a British nurse who is the council’s CEO. Infection rates of 9 percent and 12 to 14 percent have been reported among health workers in Italy and Spain respectively, he said, adding that nurses have died in the two nations, as well as Iran and Indonesia. “We have no doubt
Japan’s ruling party yesterday proposed the nation’s biggest-ever stimulus package of ￥60 trillion (US$554 billion) as the COVID-19 pandemic locks the economy in a recession. The sum includes ￥20 trillion in fiscal measures with private initiatives and other elements likely making up the rest, the proposal by the Liberal Democratic Party showed. More than ￥10 trillion, or the equivalent of a 5 percentage point cut in the sales tax rate, would be handed out to the public in a combination of cash, subsidies and coupons, the plan showed. The proposal puts an initial figure on a stimulus package that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo