Preamble

With faith in American democracy at its lowest point in years, 52 dissidents from 28 countries have come together to sign this letter, celebrating America’s founding values but also warning of the dangers that may lay ahead if those values—especially freedom of speech—are compromised. They are writers, journalists, artists, activists, and political figures who have fought against a brutal dictatorship in Belarus, defended transgender rights in Ethiopia, been jailed for condemning extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, and survived assassination attempts and solitary confinement in an attempt to bring democracy back to Venezuela. These dissidents have risked their lives for a fraction of the freedoms that Americans take for granted.

They have no vested interest in America’s partisan battles but offer instead a sober warning about growing disinformation, threats to voting rights, and an environment that is increasingly inhospitable to free and open discourse in the United States. Our signatories recognize that to win the global fight against authoritarianism, America must once again believe in and live up to its own values. American principles have always inspired them. Perhaps now, their stories can inspire us.

An Open Letter on American Democracy from Global Dissidents

As dissidents and human rights activists from authoritarian regimes, we know what it means to be punished for speaking our minds. In our home countries, we have experienced censorship not just from our governments, but also from our fellow citizens. We have seen how threats to free discourse can imperil democracy, and have always looked to America’s founding principles for inspiration. Yet, alarmingly, we are starting to hear the censorious echoes of these trends in the United States—echoes which may well develop into something more dangerous if they aren’t addressed.

Americans find themselves in an environment in which the discussion of controversial ideas is increasingly under siege from extremes across the political spectrum. People should not fear for their jobs or their safety for expressing unpopular points of view. Controversial opinions should be debated, not silenced; free societies need unorthodox opinions to ensure freedom, pursue truth, and challenge authority.

To decry the climate of fear and self-censorship taking hold in the United States is not to suggest it is equivalent to totalitarian state repression. Nor is it to deny that even in America, other forces—like the violent rioters who attacked the US Capitol, and the disinformation and conspiracy theories that drove them—pose a more immediate threat to democracy. Far too many people have expressed willingness to disregard the results of free and fair elections. This is unacceptable in a free society. But the appropriate response to any democratic crisis must be to reaffirm our commitment to the fundamental principles of democracy, especially free speech and civil discourse.

Instead of censoring opinions with which we disagree, we can challenge them in a vibrant marketplace of ideas. And instead of permanently shunning people if they make a mistake, we should keep redemption on the table. Maintaining an open society is essential to America’s political health and should be a matter of concern for everyone who is fighting for a freer and fairer world.

Dictators in our home countries—of all political leanings—use the shortcomings of American institutions to justify the existence of their illiberal regimes. When we look at America, we don’t see Republicans and Democrats; we see Americans who are so torn apart by polarization that some are willing to sacrifice their democratic values for political gain. Manifest in attacks on both voting rights and freedom of speech, this self-destructive trend in the US is a useful new tool for dictators back home who seize on this dynamic to justify ever-harsher repression. If the world’s leading democracy doesn’t believe in its own values, why should dictators even bother paying lip service to them? We must defend these principles that inspire advocates of liberty and provide a crucial check on tyrants. The advancement of freedom depends on it.

We should not expect to defeat illiberalism with illiberalism. The freedom to dissent or advance unpopular points of view without fear of punishment is a requirement of all just societies—whether in countries known to uphold the traditional values of democracy or those that have hardly enjoyed any political liberty. We need to stand in solidarity against the forces that threaten this freedom everywhere.

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Sign the open letter.

Aaron Berhane

Aaron Berhane passed away in May 2021. He was an Eritrean journalist, publisher, and co-founder and editor-in-chief of Setit, Eritrea’s first and largest independent newspaper. For challenging the repressive government, Setit was raided and shut down in 2001. Many of its journalists were arrested, and some died in prison. Aaron spent 103 days in hiding before crossing the border into Sudan in disguise. His family, wife, and three children could not escape with him and remained in Eritrea another decade. They were constantly spied on, threatened, and harassed.

As a refugee in Canada, Aaron worked menial jobs before becoming a college professor and founding another newspaper for the Eritrean community. He was awarded the 2003/04 Donner Canadian Journalists for Free Expression Fellowship and the 2019 PEN Canada-Humber College Writers-in-Exile Scholarship.

Abdulrahman Matar

Abdulrahman Matar is a journalist, poet, author, and activist for human rights and freedom of expression in Syria. His articles and novels have led to his arrest on five different occasions, and he was a prisoner of conscience for almost 10 years. His novel Wild Mirage is an account of his political imprisonment, torture, deprivation, abuse, and oppression.

Abdulrahman Matar became a Canadian resident in 2015 and is currently a researcher of human rights and terrorism issues. He is the founder and director of the Mediterranean Studies Center and Syrian-Mediterranean Cultural Forum, SEEGULL.

Ahmed Naji

Ahmed Naji is an Egyptian novelist and journalist who was sentenced to two years in prison for sexually suggestive excerpts in his novel The Use of Life. He served a total of 10 months in prison before he was released for a retrial, though he was forbidden from leaving Egypt. A year after his release, the travel ban was lifted, and in July 2018 he fled to the US. He has been in exile ever since.

Ahmed Naji currently serves as  A city of asylum fellow at Black Mountain Institute (UNLV) . On May 16, 2016, he was awarded the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.

Andréi Sannikov

Andrei Sannikov is a former Deputy Foreign Minister for Belarus who ran for president against dictator Alexander Lukashenko in 2010. During a protest on the night of the election, Andréi was beaten by the police and arrested. His family was never notified of his well-being, and months went by without anyone knowing if he was alive or dead. Facing pressure from Western governments, Lukashenko released Andréi in 2012 after almost a year and a half in prison.
Andrei now lives in exile and is part of the civil campaign “European Belarus,” which seeks for Belarus to join the European Union.

Audrey Mbugua

Audrey Mbugua is a Kenyan human rights activist who won a landmark case for transgender rights in 2014. Audrey transitioned after graduating, but the discrepancy between her academic certificates and her new name and gender had hampered her job opportunities in Kenya. When the Examinations Council wouldn’t update her certificates upon request, she sued; the High Court of Kenya ruled in her favor. Almost two years later, Audrey turned her attention to the Senate of Kenya, where she demanded that the 2016 Health Bill do more to address and destigmatize reassignment surgery and therapy.

Audrey Mbugua continues to fight for transgender rights at home in Kenya and abroad. She heads Transgender Education and Advocacy (TEA), an international organization that defends the rights of transgender people. In 2014, she was nominated by the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Human Rights Tulip Award.

 

Berta Valle

Berta Valle is a well-known Nicaraguan activist, social communicator, and human rights defender. In 2016, Ms. Valle was nominated as an independent to represent Managua in the National Assembly by the Independent Liberal Party as part of its National Coalition for Democracy. However, Nicaragua’s Supreme Court, controlled by Ortega-loyalists, disqualified the party’s electoral coalition and Ms. Valle was blocked from running.

Since 2018, Berta, her daughter, and mother-in-law have been living in exile abroad due to the political persecution against her husband, Félix Maradiaga, and their family. As a result of the enforced disappearance and detention of her husband, she coordinates defense teams that support Félix inside and outside of Nicaragua. On July 27, 2021, the Nicaraguan Public Ministry and Nicaraguan National Police published press releases reporting that the Ortega regime had found Ms. Valle summarily guilty, in absentia and without charge or trial, of being a “traitor to the homeland,” based on so-called “investigations” into her international advocacy in defense of her political prisoner husband.

Claudia Escobar

Judge Claudia Escobar is a Guatemalan lawyer and former magistrate of the Court of Appeals who fled to the US in 2015 after receiving death threats for presenting a complaint against the Vice President of Guatemala, the former Head of Congress, and other powerful officials. Believing that an independent judiciary is the most powerful tool against corruption, Claudia continues fighting and advocating for apolitical rule of law in Central America.

She is a visiting professor at George Mason University, and a centennial fellow at Georgetown University. Was previously awarded fellowships at Harvard University and the National Endowment for Democracy. She was selected to be a commissioner for the International Experts Commission against Corruption in Ecuador by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Government of Ecuador.

Enes Kanter

Enes is a professional basketball player for the Boston Celtics and Turkish-born democracy advocate. He’s used his platform as a professional athlete to bring attention to abuses against the Turkish people by Recep Erdoğan’s regime, turning him into an enemy of the state. In 2017, the Turkish government revoked his passport and issued an arrest warrant for Enes. Despite repeated threats against his life and his family, Enes continues to fight for a free Turkey.

In October of 2021, Enes began a new campaign to pressure Chinese ruler Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party to respect human rights, end the Uyghur genocide, support an independent Hong Kong, & Tibet, and end the persecution of Chinese citizens. In partnership with the artist Chinese dissident artist Badiucao, he plays NBA games in various pairs of custom-painted shoes calling for political change and drawing attention to the atrocities of the Chinese government. 

Evan Mawarire

Evan Mawarire is a Zimbabwean democracy activist and clergyman who founded #ThisFlag Citizen’s Movement to fight corruption, injustice, and poverty in Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe’s government imprisoned Evan in 2016, and he was imprisoned three more times in 2017 when he prayed with protestors and spke about Zimbabwe’s economic woes at his church. In 2019, under President Emmerson Mnangagwa, he was arrested for organizing a boycott and was later charged with sedition. For leading the most popular pro-democracy social media movement in Zimbabwe’s history, Evan was forced into exile in the US.

 

Foreign Policy named Evan Mawarire one of the 100 Global Thinkers of 2016. Daily Maverick of South Africa named him 2016 African of the Year. He is a 2018 Stanford University Fellow of the Centre for Democracy Development and the Rule of Law. Evan was a nominee for the 2017 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards and the Swedish government’s 2018 Per Anger Prize.

 

Faisal Al-Mutar

Faisal is an Iraqi-born counter extremism advocate, satirist, and speaker. As a result of his secular lifestyle, he was repeatedly targeted for kidnapping and threatened. In 2013, he had to flee Iraq for the U.S.

Faisal is an advocate for Universal Human Rights, enlightenment values and the free market of ideas, and is enthusiastic about the intersection of technology and advocacy. He is also the founder of multiple online platforms that together have more than 400,000 subscribers and millions of visitors. He previously worked as a program manager for the Middle East and North Africa to assist dissidents in closed societies worldwide. In 2015, Faisal received the “President’s Volunteer Service Award” from President Barack Obama for his special commitment to education.

Farid Noori

Farid Noori was born in Afghanistan when the Taliban took over the country the first time (1995). Soon, after his family–members of the Hazara ethnic minority–escaped Taliban persecution to Pakistan. There, he began his education in a school for Afghan refugees. After 9/11 and with the promise of democracy in Afghanistan, Farid moved back to Afghanistan with his family like millions of other Afghans to take part in the reconstruction of their war-torn country. In 2011, Farid came to the US on a State Department high school exchange program and managed to stay on a series of educational scholarships. In 2018, Farid founded the nonprofit organization Mountain Bike Afghanistan to empower Afghan youth through the joy of riding and competing on mountain bikes and connecting people across cultures over their shared love of cycling. The organization uses cycling to actively promote joy and peace, and achieve gender equality in Afghan society. Farid was a competitive mountain biker himself, representing Afghanistan and his organization in elite-level races across the US as the face of a younger Afghan generation that was empowered to catch up with the rest of the world in all aspects of civic and socioeconomic life; in his particular case, through sports.

 

Farida Bemba Nabourema

Farida Nabourema is a Togolese writer and pro-democracy activist living in exile for fear of death if she returns to Togo. In 2014, she published a book titled La Pression de l’Oppression (The Pressure of Oppression) highlighting the struggle African people face and the need for African youth and women to be politically engaged. Farida’s work focuses on promoting Pan-Africanism while denouncing corruption and dictatorship.

Farida is the cofounder of the “”Faure Must Go”” movement, which protests the current dictatorship in Togo. She is also the Executive Director of the Togolese Civil League, an NGO that promotes democracy and human rights in Togo through grassroots organizing, civic education, and advocacy. She is a 2021 Jennings Randolph Senior Research Fellow at USIP, where she is conducting research on gender-based repression in nonviolent movements in Africa. She is also an Inclusive Global Leadership Initiative adjunct professor at the Joseph Korbel School of International Studies.


Fatou Jaw-Manneh

Fatou Jaw-Manneh is a Gambian journalist and political activist whose criticism of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh and his authoritarian government eventually led to her exile and arrest. She received  political asylum in the US in 1994. On a trip back to the country in 2007 following the passing of her father, Fatou was arrested on a four-count charge: sedition, publication of seditious words, publication of false information and uttering seditious words. She was on trial for a year and a half but was able to pay an exorbitant fine and escape again. She has since returned to The Gambia and continues her pro-democracy advocacy.

Fatou is known as “”Gambia’s Iron Lady”” and “”The Dame of The Flaming Pen.”” In 2007, she won the Oxfam Novib/PEN International Free Expression Award, and in 2009 she won the Hellman/Hammett award from Human Rights Watch. She was a Oslo Freedom Forum Speaker. She is President of Sukuta Eco Political Forum, a community & grassroots organization on civil political discourse and protecting the forest parks and environment against government and Chinese companies engaged in illegal fishing and timber trade in The Gambia and Africa.

Felix Agbor Nkongho Balla

Felix Agbor Nkongho Balla is a human rights lawyer in Cameroon. As a result of his advocacy, he was arrested in 2017. Felix was blindfolded, handcuffed, and taken to the notorious Kondengui Prison in Yaounde, Cameroon. There, he was threatened with the death penalty and sent before a military tribunal. After eight months of imprisonment, including 45 days in solitary confinement, he was released through a presidential decree and all charges against him were dropped.

Felix worked as a Legal Officer with the International Criminal Court for Sierra Leone, the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, and the United Nations Police in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is also the Founder and President of the CENTRE for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa  (CHRDA), where he provides pro-bono legal services to thousands of victims of human rights abuses.

Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan

Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan is president of the Liberal Party of the Philippines and chairperson of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats. He has angered the ruling party in the Philippines for speaking out against mass murder disguised as a “war on drugs,” China’s occupation of Filipino islands, misogyny, and the ruling government’s relentless attacks on freedom and democracy. He champions human rights, social justice, and the rule of law.

Gani Stambekov

Garry Kasparov

Garry Kasparov is a World Chess Champion, political activist, and outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He fled Russia when Putin won a third term, fearing prosecution when Putin began conducting sham investigations into political activists involved in Russia’s mass protests of 2011. Garry was a prime target as the founder of the United Civil Front, an organization devoted to preserving electoral democracy in Russia, and as a former candidate for Russia’s presidency. Garry initially rose to stardom as the USSR Under-18 chess champion, winning at the age of 12, and becoming the youngest World Chess Champion in history at age 22. He leveraged this fame for a distinguished post-chess career promoting liberal democracy in Russia and abroad.

In 2017, he founded the Renew Democracy Initiative.

Hasan Ali Yurtsever

Dr. Hasan Ali Yurtsever is the Executive Director of the Huddled Masses organization which helps victims of political and religious persecution, particularly those from Turkey, integrate to life in the United States. 

Hasan also serves as the Muslim faith advisor at Benedictine University in Illinois and was President of the Rumi Forum in DC. He earned his B.S. from Boğaziçi University and M.S. and PhD from Ege University and taught in the math department at Georgetown University.                                                                                                                                                                                       

Ilhan Tanir

Executive Editor, Ahval News

Ilhan Tanir is a Washington, DC-based journalist who has covered U.S. politics and U.S-Turkish relations for Turkish national newspapers and online publications for more than a decade. Tanir was a columnist for Hürriyet Daily News from 2009 to 2013 and a correspondent for the Turkish daily Vatan from 2009 until 2014. He then reported for the BBC Turkish Service and the Cumhuriyet newspaper. In January 2017, Tanir launched the bilingual Washington Hatti news website which focuses on Turkish-U.S. relations and draws on contributors, writers, and editors from around the world. Tanir writes extensively on Turkish domestic politics, Turkey-U.S. relations, as well as issues related to the wider Middle East and Eurasia region. He has also reported from Syria several times since the war began there in 2011 and is a frequent commentator on Turkish and Western television news networks. Tanir received his master’s degree from George Mason University and is a graduate of Ankara University’s prestigious Political Science School.

Ivan Tyutrin

Ivan Tyutrin is a politician and co-founder of the Free Russia Forum (FRF), a biannual conference held in Vilnius for Russia’s pro-democracy opposition. Through the FRF, Ivan has helped expose the abuses of Putin’s regime with projects like “PUTIN’S LIST,” a project to uncover the abuses and greed of the Russians holding up Putin’s regime and enriching themselves through corruption.

Ivan Tyutrin lives in Vilnius, where he continues to fight for Russia’s freedom. Since 2005, he has led the Tomsk regional department of the United Civil Front, a pro-democracy social movement founded by Garry Kasparov. In 2018, Ivan was elected to the Permanent Committee of the FRF.

Senator Leila De Lima

Senator of the Republic of the Philippines Human Rights Defender Prisoner of Conscience
(since February 24, 2017, under the current regime of President Rodrigo Duterte)

Senator Leila de Lima of the Philippines was appointed head of the National Human Rights Commission of the Philippines in 2008. While in this role, she investigated now-President Duterte’s involvement in extrajudicial executions during his time as Mayor of Davao City. In the 2016 general elections, de Lima won a seat in the Senate. After President Duterte took office, Senator de Lima criticized the increased number of killings of suspected drug offenders and opened a Senate Inquiry into the unlawful executions. Shortly after, allies of President Duterte accused her of accepting drug money and charged her without evidence. On July 18, 2019, the Philippine National Police filed sedition charges against her. If found guilty, she faces possible life in prison. She signed the letter through her attorney as she is currently imprisoned.

Leopoldo Lopez

Leopoldo Lopez is a democracy activist and an opposition leader in Venezuela. By openly challenging dictators like Chávez and Maduro, he faced persecution. Fake accusations barred him from running for office, and then were used to justify his arrest. He was sentenced to 13 years, of which he spent 3 in a military prison, and 2 under house arrest. During the 2019 uprising against Maduro’s regime, Lopez escaped house arrest and sought refuge in the Spanish Embassy, where he remained for over a year. In 2020, he escaped from Venezuela in disguise over the border into Colombia.

Leopoldo now lives in exile in Spain, but continues to advocate relentlessly for human rights and democracy in Venezuela.

Marina Nemat

Author

Marina Nemat is the author of the bestselling memoir Prisoner of Tehran, which has been translated into more than 30 languages. She was born in Iran in 1965 and was arrested at the age of 16 in 1982 for speaking out against the new Islamist government in her country. She spent 2 years, 2 months, and 12 days as a prisoner of conscience in the notorious Evin prison, where she was tortured and raped. She now lives in Canada and, in addition to writing and teaching, is an outspoken critic of the Iranian regime. She has spoken at Oxford University, Yale University, Stanford University, the University of Toronto, and for the UN Human Rights Council.

Maryam Namazie

Maryam Namazie is a British-Iranian activist, writer, and broadcaster who criticizes repressive Islamist movements and fights for women’s rights, secularism, and free expression. Her career began in Sudan, where she co-founded Human Rights Without Frontiers for Ethiopian refugees. When the Islamic Revolution came to Sudan, she was forced to escape. Her outspoken opposition to Islamic laws and traditions, such as stonings, drew the eye and ire of Iran; their government-controlled media featured an “”exposé”” of Maryam aimed at demonizing her, and in 2019 ran a TV program that labeled her “anti-God.” 

 

Recently, she defends her progressive and secular perspectives from her own TV program which is broadcast over satellite to bypass government censors and reach a wide audience in the Middle East. Namazie was awarded the 2016 International Secularism Prize from Comité Laïcité République and the 2017 Henry H. Zumach Freedom from Religious Fundamentalism Award.

 

Masih Alinejad

Masih Alinejad is an Iranian American journalist who was forced to flee Iran in 2009 after criticizing lawmakers and political figures, including former President Ahmadinejad. Since 2014, she has led various viral social media campaigns including My Stealthy Freedom to showcase liberating acts of defiance by women in Iran, like walking in public without a hijab. A tireless women’s rights and democracy advocate, Masih was the target of a planned kidnapping by Iranian intelligence while she was living in the US in 2021. 

Masih is a journalist, author, TV broadcaster, and human rights campaigner. As the founder of My Stealthy Freedom and author of the best-selling memoir The Wind in My Hair, she is the leading voice in the campaign against compulsory hijabs in Iran.

 

 

Meron Estefanos

Meron Estefanos is a human rights activist, journalist and radio presenter. She is also the co-founder of the International Commission on Eritrean Refugees and director of Eritrean Initiative on Eritrean Refugees in Stockholm, Sweden. For over the last 13  years, Ms. Estefanos was nominated and received several awards for her work. She is the co-author and contributor to a wide range of studies, books and academic publications on the smuggling and trafficking of human beings (STHB). 


Over the last ten years, Ms. Estefanos personally developed a unique network of testimonies and sources on STHB, with a particular focus on the condition of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees from the Horn of Africa to Europe. She has cooperated closely with a wide range of international institutions, universities, the European Union, the United Nations, humanitarian organisations, and governments. Meron was awarded the 2011 Dawit Isaak Prize, Sweden. She was nominated for the 2014 UNHCR Nansen Award by the US State Department Bureau of Population, Refugee, and Migration. In 2015 she was awarded “Earth Angel” ACAT Award, and named by The Guardian among the eight “heroes” of 2016.

Michel Hausmann

Theater Director, Writer & Producer - Co-Founder & Artistic Director of Miami New Drama

Michel Hausmann is a Venezuelan-born theater director, producer, and writer. He was the co-founder and Artistic Director of an award-winning theater company in Venezuela where he directed over a dozen productions, including Fiddler on the Roof, for which he came into conflict with the Venezuelan government, a vocal foe of Israel. Michel received a BA from Emerson College and an MFA in Theater Directing from Columbia University. He is a New York Theater Workshop 2050 Fellow, a Shubert Presidential fellow, an IRNE nominee, a Richard Rodgers Award finalist, and a two-time Knights Arts Challenge Award recipient.

Mohamed Soltan

Mohamed Soltan is a human rights advocate who in 2013, while covering a protest against the military coup in Egypt, was shot by a sniper. He was later arrested by Egyptian authorities, tortured in prison, and eventually began a hunger strike that lasted 489 days to protest his unjust imprisonment and the inhumane detention conditions. On May 30th, 2015, shortly after an Egyptian judge sentenced him to life in prison along with 37 others, the US government intervened at the highest levels and successfully facilitated his release to the United States. Mohamed is currently the President of The Freedom Initiative, a US-based non-partisan human rights organization that advocates for the freedom of prisoners wrongfully detained across the Middle East and North Africa.

Natalia Kaliada

Natalia Kaliada is an award-winning theatre-maker, writer, human rights diplomat, and Founding Artistic Director of Belarus Free Theatre (BFT), a Minsk-based underground theater that challenges censorship and oppression under Alexander Lukashenko. For demanding “freedom of artistic expression,” recognizing the marginalized of Belarus, and protesting Lukashenko’s sham win of the 2010 election, Natalia had to be smuggled out of the country. She currently lives in the UK.

Recently, Natalia Kaliada campaigns for economic sanctions against Lukashenko and other officials who are responsible for repressing the Belarusian people. In Minsk, BFT continues their work underground. Awards include the Human Rights Prize of the French Republic, the Atlantic Council Award, the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent, the Magnitsky Prize for Courage Under Fire, and The Stage International Award.

Natallia Radzina

Natallia Radzina is living in exile from Belarus because of her role in exposing human rights violations and corruption in the country. She is the editor-in-chief of pro-opposition news website Charter 97, which publishes articles critical of Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko. In 2010, following the post-election opposition protests in Minsk, members of the KGB stormed Natallia’s office and fraudulently charged her with “participating in an unsanctioned rally.” Facing up to 15 years in prison, she fled to Moscow, where she hid for four months before seeking asylum in Lithuania.

Natallia continues to cover wrongdoing in Belarus at Charter 97. In November 2011, the Committee to Protect Journalists awarded her with its International Press Freedom Award, “an annual recognition of courageous journalism.”

Omar Alshogre

Omar Alshogre is a Syrian public speaker, detention survivor, and Georgetown University student who currently lives in D.C. Omar fled Syria at the age of 20 after being arrested and imprisoned for participating in rallies and demonstrations against the Syrian regime. With the help of his mother, Omar was finally smuggled from prison at the age of 20. From his new home, Omar currently engages in raising awareness of the situation in Syria. 

Omar leads the Syrian Emergency Task Force’s efforts to advocate for the liberation of detainees as the Director of Detainees Affairs. Omar has met with the White House, Holocaust Museum, multiple members of Congress, HRW, NYT, Washington Post, and gave lectures at Brown, Princeton, and other American universities during his time in the United States. He is also a key witness to every national prosecution effort to hold the Assad regime accountable for War Crimes and will be playing an important role alongside Caesar as a key witness for future US national prosecution efforts of the Assad regime where American citizens have been executed and others remain detained by the regime. 

Pedro Mario Burelli

Pedro Mario Burelli is a Venezuelan national, businessman, and former Executive Board Member of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). His pro-business stance clashed with former president Hugo Chávez and current president Nicolás Maduro. Maduro classified Pedro as an extremist and traitor, often evoking his name in fictitious conspiracy theories and eventually issuing a warrant for his arrest.

Pedro has been an outspoken critic of both regimes and their allegiance to Russian and Cuban oil interests, which contributed to the collapse of Venezuela’s economy. He is the founder and managing director of B+V Advisors, a financial advisory firm focusing on capital raising and M&A in Russia, Spain, and Latin America.

Roya Mahboob

Roya is a serial entrepreneur and one of the first female CEOs in her home country, Afghanistan. As CEO of Digital Citizens Fund, Bright Citizen (coffee and tea) and EdyEdy, Roya’s work is focused on digital literacy to bridge the gap between education and the job markets. Digital Citizens Fund has 15,000 graduates from its 13 digital classrooms and has incubated ten female startups. Roya is currently in development with the Afghan government to build STEM schools in Afghanistan to unlock new opportunities for the inclusion of female entrepreneurs in hard to reach places using airspace and blockchain technology. Roya is also the champion and coach of the world renowned Afghan Girls Robotics Team, the Afghan Dreamers, who are inspiring a nation to see the potential of girls differently.

Roya was named as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2013, and received the 2014 Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award, The Advancement of Gender Equality through Education Award, Young Leader of World Economic Forum, Wonder women, Visionary award, the prestigious Presidential Leadership Scholarship and is a founding Leader of The NewNow, a group of rising global leaders tackling global challenges.

Silvia Buendía

Silvia Buendía is an Ecuadorian lawyer, TV host, and feminist activist who campaigned for legalizing gay marriage in Ecuador. When she criticized President Correa for his opposition to LGBT and women’s rights, she was harassed by pro-Correa internet trolls. Despite the pressure, her lifelong efforts paid off in 2019 when Ecuador legalized gay marriage. Her career began as a columnist at El Telégrafo before she became a host for the TV program Así Somos and debated from the perspective of the progressive left. Silvia was a spokesperson for the LGBTI Diversity Ecuador Network and member of Ruptura 25, a left-wing movement founded on the 25th anniversary of Ecuador’s transition from military triumvirate to constitutional, civilian-ruled democracy.

Silvia Buendía currently lives and works in Guayaquil, Ecuador. In 2013, she was a candidate for the Ecuadorian legislative elections.

 

Xavier Bonilla

Xavier Bonilla, known by his pen name “Bonil,” is an Ecuadorian cartoonist who works for El Universo, Ecuador’s major national newspaper. His drawings defend freedom of expression and spotlight abuses of power by politicians in Ecuador and Latin America. Former President of Ecuador Rafael Correa levied several attacks and insults against Bonil on his weekly television program, and used the governmental institutions he controlled to impose sanctions and fines on Bonil and the newspaper for $95,000. Bonil was then harassed and defamed by pro-Correa internet trolls.

Xavier Bonilla continues to expose abuses of power and advocate for free expression, winning several awards for his work. He received a Mention of Excellence at the United Nations and was nominated for the 2015 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award.

Zineb El Rhazoui

Zineb El Rhazoui is a Moroccan-French journalist and human rights activist. As a former columnist for the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, she received thousands of death threats from ISIS. Many fanatics followed suit and flooded social media and the internet with her personal information, pictures of her family, live location, and offered a monetary reward to harm her. 

She is the founder of several organizations advocating for democracy, secularism, free speech, and women’s rights. In Morocco, she was arrested three times for protesting the government, which in 2010 also banned and closed the weekly paper Le Journal Hebdomadaire where she worked. She is the author of the book Destroy Islamic Fascism and in 2019 was awarded the “”Prix du public Simone Veil” at the Trophées #ellesdeFrance.

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