Oslo Freedom Forum

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Oslo Freedom Forum
Oslo Freedom Forum 2018 Press Conference (103500).jpg
From the press conference of the 2018 Oslo Freedom Forum.
Founded2009 (Oslo, Norway)
AttendanceGarry Kasparov, Thor Halvorssen
Patron(s)Sergey Brin's and Peter Thiel's charitable foundations
Organised byHuman Rights Foundation

Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) is a series of global conferences run by the New York-based non-profit Human Rights Foundation under the slogan "Challenging Power".[1] OFF was founded in 2009 as a one-time event and has taken place annually ever since. One of the key objectives of the conferences is to bring together notable people, including former heads of state, winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, prisoners of conscience, as well as of other public figures in order to network and exchange ideas about human rights and exposing dictatorships.

The main OFF conference is held annually in central Oslo, Norway, while satellite events have been held in San Francisco and New York, and on college campuses in the United States. OFF talks are live-streamed and consist of lectures and panel discussions taking place in front of a live audience.[2]

OFF was founded by human rights activist Thor Halvorssen.



The inaugural Oslo Freedom Forum, titled "The Nobility of the Human Spirit and the Power of Freedom", featured more than 30 speakers with an emphasis on the importance of literature in advancing the cause of freedom. Participants included Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel; Czech playwright and politician Václav Havel; Kurdish rights advocate Leyla Zana; and Tibetan former political prisoner Palden Gyatso.[1]

Norwegian daily Klassekampen called the conference an "impressive assembly of people."[3] The Wall Street Journal described OFF as "unlike any other human-rights conference... the emphasis was on promoting basic rights in all nations at all times."[4]


The 2010 Oslo Freedom Forum, organized around the theme "From Tragedy to Triumph", featured participants from more than 40 countries and six continents. The event focused on the progress made in the realms of civil liberties and freedoms over the past century, while highlighting the innovation of modern-day advocates—activists, policy makers, world leaders, and media entrepreneurs.

The Economist described the 2010 forum as "A spectacular human-rights festival… on its way to becoming a human right equivalent of the Davos economic forum."[5]


The 2011 Oslo Freedom Forum took place under the theme "Spark of Change", and featured speakers from across the world who gave presentations on an array of topics, from an analysis of some of the world's most prominent dictatorships, to a look at the impact that a single individual can have on the world.

The Economist described the 2011 OFF as "a glittering gathering of veterans of human-rights struggles."[6] Peter Thiel (of Facebook, PayPal, and LinkedIn) praised the Oslo Freedom Forum "because [its] focus on dissidents engages the intellectual debate as well as the moral cause."


Titled "Out of Darkness, Into Light", the fourth annual Oslo Freedom Forum explored numerous topics, including a spotlight on the many forms of modern-day slavery; exposés on how Western public relations agencies, IT firms, and arms companies support dictatorships; the drug war’s impact on human rights; a focus on the burgeoning democracy movement in Russia; perspectives on fighting poverty through individual rights; an examination of global censorship; and a discussion on the state of the Arab uprisings. Supporters included the City of Oslo, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amnesty International, the Thiel Foundation, Fritt Ord, the Nobel Peace Center, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

The Daily Beast described the forum as a conference of "do-gooders conspiring to stir up trouble,"[7] while The Guardian called it "a Davos for Revolutionaries."[8]


The 2013 Oslo Freedom Forum was themed "Challenging Power" and centered on a range of topics, such as the art of dissent, asymmetric activism, new tools for rights advocates, the power of media, women under Islamic law, and the threat of authoritarian regimes with façade capitalism.

2013 speakers included Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng; recently escaped blogger Bahraini Ali Abdulemam; Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa; Zimbabwean artist Owen Maseko; Tibetan prime minister Lobsang Sangay; creator of the Magnitsky Act Bill Browder; Palestinian journalist Asmaa al-Ghoul; Malaysian lawyer and democracy advocate Ambiga Sreenevasan; and Serbian nonviolent resistance leader Srdja Popovic.[9]

The conference culminated with the presentation of the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent. The 2013 laureates were Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat, North Korean democracy activist Park Sang Hak, and Cuban civil society group Ladies in White—represented by their leader Berta Soler.

The conference was chronicled in VICE, BuzzFeed, El País, El Mundo, Aftenposten, and Verdens Gang. Speakers were profiled in The Atlantic, CNN, The Economist, The New York Times, CNET, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, Dagens Næringsliv, and Finansavisen. BuzzFeed described the conference as "an internationalist networking party where dissidents trade tips on overthrowing authoritarian regimes," while Al Jazeera characterized it as "an annual conference that gives the people who challenge repressive regimes a platform to speak."

The forum ended with the presentation of the second Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent to Ali Ferzat, a Syrian political cartoonist, the Ladies in White (from Cuba) and Park Sang Hak, a North Korean democracy advocate.


The 2014 Oslo Freedom Forum included Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef; Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker; Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez; American actor Jeffrey Wright; Ukrainian pro-democracy activist Yulia Marushevska; iconic Turkish protestor Erdem Gündüz, as well as Marcela Turati Muñoz, Yeonmi Park, Hyeonseo Lee, Iyad El-Baghdadi, Ti-Anna Wang, Suleiman Bakhit, Jamila Raqib, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Aljokhina and Mikhail Khodorkovskij.[10]

The New York Times called the Oslo Freedom Forum the place where "the world’s dissidents have their say."[11]


The 2015 Oslo Freedom Forum took place on May 25–27 and was described by The Financial Times as a "Davos for dissidents."[12] Speakers included Charlie Hebdo columnist Zineb El Rhazoui, North Korean Ji Seong-ho, Afghan entrepreneur Saad Mohseni, and Twitter vice president Colin Crowell.[13]


The 2016 Oslo Freedom Forum took place on May 23–25, 2016. Speakers included Afghan entrepreneur Roya Mahboob and Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza.[14]


The 2017 Oslo Freedom Forum took place on May 23–24, 2017. Speakers included Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg, the Maldives' first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, Peter Thiel, and American Nobel Laureate and director of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Jody Williams. A second event took place on September 19, 2017, in New York City, parallel to the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly.[15] The event took place at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, and was considered a "one-day" version of the event typically held in Oslo. Speakers included among others former World Chess Champion and chairman of the Human Rights Foundation Garry Kasparov, Iranian dissident Marina Nemat, Russian democracy activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, Serbian political activist Srdja Popovic and Venezuelan democracy activist Wuilly Arteaga.[16][17][18]


The Oslo Freedom Forum took place from 28 to 30 May 2018. Speakers included Clare Rewcastle Brown, Lebo Mashile, Asma Khalifa, Galia Benartzi, Mu Sochua, Leyla Yunus, Tiff Stevenson, Antonio Ledezma, Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, Fang Zheng, Wael Ghonim, Jason Silva, Rick Doblin, Maziar Bahari and Emmanuel Jal.[19]


In 2019, The Oslo Freedom Forum held a one-day event in Taipei. Speakers included Denise Ho Thae Young-ho and Thai education reformer and activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal.[20][21]


Due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the forum was held online.[22] Speakers included Park Eun-hee,[23]


San Francisco Freedom Forum[edit]

Iconic Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi headlined the 2012 San Francisco event, which featured talks exploring various paths to freedom. Other speakers included: Saudi women’s rights pioneer Manal al-Sharif; conflict psychologist Justine Hardy; Iranian author and former prisoner of conscience Marina Nemat; Slate editor and author William J. Dobson; drug policy reformer Ethan Nadelmann; Chinese scholar and former political prisoner Yang Jianli; Ghanaian economist George Ayittey; Moroccan journalist Ahmed Benchemsi; and Kazakhstani theater director Bolat Atabayev.[24]

As part of her first trip to the United States after more than 20 years under house arrest in Burma, Suu Kyi accepted the 2012 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent.

The 2016 San Francisco Freedom Forum took place at the Regency Center in the last week of September and included Rosa Maria Paya; Zineb El Rhazoui, Danilo Maldonado Machado, Lee Hyeon-seo, Roya Mahboob, Yulia Marushevska, Abdalaziz Alhamza, and Kimberley Motley. [1]

College Freedom Forum[edit]

The first College Freedom Forum took place at Tufts University on November 5, 2013. Speakers included Iranian author and former prisoner of conscience Marina Nemat; Moroccan journalist and media entrepreneur Ahmed Benchemsi; Equatoguinean human rights lawyer Tutu Alicante; president and CEO of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) Hannah Song; and Egyptian journalist Abeer Allam.[25]

The second College Freedom Forum took place at the University of Colorado Boulder on March 11, 2014. Speakers included Chinese civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng; Ugandan LGBT rights advocate Kasha Jacqueline; Bahraini human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja; and North Korean defector and democracy advocate Park Sang Hak. Talks were followed by a moderated question and answer session with the audience. The event was a joint initiative of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) and the University of Colorado Boulder Distinguished Speakers Board and Cultural Events Board.[26]

The third College Freedom Forum took place at Yale University on March 26, 2015. Speakers included Iranian author and former prisoner of conscience Marina Nemat; North Korean defector Yeonmi Park; American journalist William Dobson; and Serbian expert on nonviolent resistance Srđa Popović. Talks were followed by a question and answer session with the audience. The event was a joint initiative of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) and Yale ThiNK (There is Hope in North Korea).[27]


  1. ^ a b "Official website". Oslo Freedom Forum. Archived from the original on May 15, 2010. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
  2. ^ ""Human Rights Beyond Ideology," about the JTF-funded Oslo Freedom Forum News". John Templeton Foundation. Archived from the original on November 15, 2016. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
  3. ^ Rowan, David (14 May 2012). "Oslo Freedom Forum brings together the global human rights movement". Wired UK. Archived from the original on 19 April 2016. Retrieved 20 May 2012.
  4. ^ Fund, John (5 June 2009). "Human Rights Beyond Ideology". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
  5. ^ "A crowded field". The Economist. May 27, 2010.
  6. ^ "Nothing new under the sun". The Economist. May 12, 2011.
  7. ^ Lake, Eli (11 May 2012). "Oslo Freedom Forum: The Davos For Do-Gooding Dissidents". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 20 May 2012.
  8. ^ Cohen, Nick (May 12, 2012). "Autocrats step in as the west's money runs out". The Guardian.
  9. ^ "Program" (PDF). Oslo Freedom Forum. Retrieved May 29, 2013.
  10. ^ "Kronikk: De har blitt torturert, voldtatt, kuttet til blods, truet og banket opp".
  11. ^ Hakim, Danny (Oct 25, 2014). "The World's Dissidents Have Their Say". New York Times.
  12. ^ "Fighting the Crisis of Liberalism One Suicide Bomber Joke at a Time". Financial Times. Retrieved November 24, 2015.
  13. ^ "2015 Oslo Freedom Forum". Oslo Freedom Forum. Retrieved November 24, 2015.
  14. ^ "2016 Oslo Freedom Forum". Oslo Freedom Forum. Retrieved February 11, 2017.
  15. ^ "Activists speak out at New York's first Oslo Freedom Forum on human rights". Metro New York. September 19, 2017. Retrieved September 21, 2017.
  16. ^ "Playing for freedom". National Review. September 20, 2017. Retrieved September 21, 2017.
  17. ^ "Oslo Freedom Forum in New York". Oslo Freedom Forum. Retrieved 9 October 2017.
  18. ^ "Activists speak out at New York's first Oslo Freedom Forum on human rights". Metro. September 19, 2017. Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  19. ^ "Oslo Freedom Forum, Rising, May 28-30, 2018". Oslo Freedom Forum. Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  20. ^ Lee, Daphne K. "Oslo Freedom Forum Calls for Hong Kong-Taiwan Unity Against Tyranny". The News Lens. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
  21. ^ Tham, David. "Highlights: Oslo Freedom Forum". Taipei Times. Retrieved 14 July 2020.
  22. ^ Chang, Chris. "Oslo Freedom Fourm advocates for freedom against tyranny". Taiwan news. Retrieved 20 July 2021.
  23. ^ Eun-hee, Park. "Escape from North Korea: My dream as a woman came true in South". www.koreantimes.co.ir. Korean Times. Retrieved 20 July 2021.
  24. ^ Forum, Oslo Freedom. "San Francisco Freedom Forum - Attend - Oslo Freedom Forum". Oslo Freedom Forum.
  25. ^ "College Freedom Forum at Tufts University". Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  26. ^ "College Freedom Forum at University of Colorado Boulder". Retrieved November 6, 2017.
  27. ^ "Oslo Scholars Presents the College Freedom Forum". Tufts Global Leadership.

External links[edit]