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Human Rights Foundation eying Taipei as host of Freedom Forum

Taipei, Aug. 11, 2016 (CNA) The New York-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is seeking to hold one of its Freedom Forums in Taipei next year to highlight Taiwan’s suppression in the international community and its democratic achievements, according to the organizers.

The forum usually brings the experience of the HRF’s flagship annual conference, the Oslo Freedom Forum, to different regions of the world to discuss current issues of human rights, political freedom and democracy.

As the foundation is seeking to bring the forum to East Asia, Taipei is the host city of choice, Alex Gladstein, chief strategy officer of the foundation, said in an interview with CNA in Taipei on Wednesday.

The aim is to inform activists around the world about Taiwan’s transition to democracy, which is an example of democracy in a Chinese society, said Gladstein, who is in Taipei to plan for the forum.

He said Taiwan serves as a good example to the government of China, demonstrating that democracy is possible for Chinese nations.

Gladstein said China has been crushing Taiwan internationally and can outdo Taiwan in many areas, from economy and investment, to food and culture.

“But the one area where Taiwan will always beat China, at least at the moment, is human rights and democracy,” Gladstein said.

The HRF’s efforts to hold a Freedom Forum in Taipei have been joined by Yang Jianli (楊建利), a visiting Chinese democracy advocate and former political prisoner.

“Taiwan is a democratic country,” but it has little international visibility, Yang said, noting that Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations or many other international organizations in which China has membership.

China often squeezes Taiwan’s international space and it is unfair that there is no representation of Taiwan’s 23 million people in the United Nations system, said Yang, who is now based in the United States.

The international Freedom Forum will provide an opportunity for Taiwan to gain greater international visibility, Yang said.

The forum, which has been held previously in Europe, North America and Latin America, will also focus next year on political freedom, democracy issues and a growing problem of dictatorship throughout the world, according to Gladstein.

About 2.8 billion people in the world live in one-party states, including China, where independent journalism and independent activism are illegal, he said.

In China, people are prosecuted if they disagree openly with the government, Gladstein said.

“The status quo in China is not acceptable,” he said.

One of the goals of the forum in East Asia next year will be to expose the problems in China in hopes of promoting greater awareness and encouraging people to help, Gladstein said.

Assistance to activists in China does not have to be in the form of financial resources, he said, adding that for example, software that allows activists there to contact each other safely would be of great help.

The Human Rights Foundation is a non-profit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally. Its programs mainly support activists and civil society leaders working in tough environments like Cuba, China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia.

Since 2009, the foundation has been holding the annual Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway, bringing together dissidents and leaders from the business, technology, media and political sectors to discuss ways of promoting human rights and democracy.

(By Elaine Hou)
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