Activists from repressive countries gather in Taiwan
"I can think of no better place to have our first Asia forum than here in Taiwan," Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian democracy activist, said Friday in Taipei at a press conference held to introduce speakers of the 2018 Oslo Freedom Forum in Taiwan.
"Taiwan is a country that does what so many of us human rights defenders and democracy activists do in our work," Kara-Murza continued, "and that is to refute and to break some of the existing preconceptions and stereotypes about democracy."
The thriving and successful democracy in Taiwan is the best refutation of the stereotypes that democracy is a Western concept which cannot take root in Asia and that there are some nations and people who are culturally predisposed to authoritarianism, said Kara-Murza.
While people in China are still suffering from dictatorship, people in Taiwan have managed to travel the remarkable journey to a full-fledged liberal constitutional democracy, he said.
"History shows many times that it's not about people's nations. It's about political systems," Kara-Murza said. "The difference between totalitarian dictatorship in China and the thriving democracy in Taiwan is the best refutation of this stereotype of cultural determination."
Kara-Murza, the coordinator of Open Russia, a civil society and pro-democracy institute founded by exiled Russian oligarch-turned-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said he will speak at the forum to a rising generation of young Russians demanding change to the corrosive and abusive regime.
"It's our mission to help them and to make sure that one day they succeed," he said.
Alex Gladstein, chief strategy officer of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, said that the reason Taiwan was chosen to be the first place in Asia to host the satellite forum is not only because it is a beacon for democracy, but also because it is a world leader in technology.
The session about technology at Saturday's forum will feature talks from Mariana Dahan, who founded World Identity Network, the first-ever blockchain pilot, to curb human trafficking, and Bill Tai, a venture capitalist, who will share his experience in using technology to improve communications and value-transfer in communities.
Omar Sharif Jr, an Egyptian actor, model, and activist fighting for the rights of the LGBT community, said at the press conference that in a society ruled by an authoritarian or a dictator, human rights for anyone are at risk, not just underprivileged people in the society.
"I was raised very privileged. I got everything I wanted when I was growing up. I was an actor from a young age, a model, spokesperson for top brands, and life was a dream until I came out," said Omar Sharif Jr, the grandson of film star Omar Sharif, the star of Doctor Zhivago.
Omar Sharif Jr. said that after he came out, he received threats of violence and death and had to leave Egypt. He hasn't been back since.
An activist fighting for rights of the LGBT community, Omar Sharif Jr. said he was very excited to be in Taiwan because Taiwan has long been a leader in applauding democratic values and institutions and has the opportunity once again to be a leader in protecting LGBT rights and giving equal treatment to all of its citizens across the board.
Mu Sochua, a Cambodian human rights activist and exiled opposition politician, couldn't go back to her country either. Mu Sochua fled into exile last year after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party, Cambodia's main opposition party of which she was vice president, and threatened to arrest its leaders.
"It's about four hours flight (from Taiwan) to Cambodia, yet it's very far for me. If I go back, I will be put in jail," she said at the press conference.
"I am here with the Oslo forum because we need to speak up. We need to speak out" against any country that demolishes human rights and democracy of any nation and any people, Sochua said.