A Debate on Freedom Versus Control at the World Forum for Democracy

Freedom from Fear 2015

“Freedom from Fear” Mural at the fourth World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, Nov. 18-20, 2015. Photo by Suzanne Lehn

The World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, organized by the Council of Europe, now forms part of the landscape of great international debates. The fourth edition took place on 18 to 20 November 2015, with the theme of “Freedom vs. Control – For a Democratic Response” — set at the start of the year, but which became more and more pressing as the event approached.

The debates began with paying homage to all the victims of extremist violence worldwide. The format, thus well established, had alternating plenary sessions and workshops presenting chosen initiatives – the “labs”, articulating on the “challenges” which go into depth on a given issue. They were, for this edition,

- Challenge 1: Ensuring security and bringing surveillance under control

- Challenge 2: Liberating society from fear and nurturing the desire for freedom

- Challenge 3: Freedom of information in the “age of terror”

The various debates and workshops were recorded and are available on Council of Europe's website, as videos (Plenary sessions) and podcasts (Labs). My specific commentary is about Lab 18, “Civic Action for Media Freedom”, with M. Chamsy SARKIS, co-founder of SMART (Syrian Media Action Revolution Team), who operates a media pool in Syria under unimaginable conditions; and Ms. Ioulia BEREZOVSKAYA, President of the independent Russian news site Grani.ru. The impressive SMART initiative first started with the beginnings of the Syrian revolution, engaging 2.000 volunteering citizen journalists to send images abroad, in partnership with AJDirect. The project evolved into a network to maintain newspaper delivery and radio broadcasting in spite of the horrendous war situation. They now see themselves as on the front line in a war for democracy, a mission that looks beyond the media, and encompasses the youth, the women, the farmers, via education and culture.

Here is a small personal portfolio (all the photos are by the author).

The opening session was punctuated by Harlem Désir's speech, the French secretary of state for European affairs, and Michaëlle Jean, the secretary general of the International Organisation of the Francophonie, who gave rousing advocacy in support of resistance, the mobilisation of vital forces and inclusiveness.

Discours de Michaëlle Jean FMD 2015, Strasbourg 19/11/2015 Photo Suzanne Lehn

Michaëlle Jean addresses the WFD 2015, Strasbourg 11/10/2015

The panel for the second plenary session brought us the Yemeni Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Prize 2011 – already present in the first forum, and the Ayatollah Ahmad IRAVINI, who teaches in Washington D.C.:

En séance plénière, Tawakkol Jarman et l'ayatollah voisinent

In the second plenary session, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Yemeni Tawakkol Karman and Ayatollah Iravani await the moment of their intervention.

The assembly of the Council of Europe, in plenary session:

FMD 2015 19/11/2015

Plenary session, WFD 2015 Strasbourg, 19/11/2015

The Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman emphasized the link between terrorism and tyranny, and noted that there was not any terrorism during the Arab Spring:

Intervention T. Karman FMD 2015

World Forum for Democracy, speech by Tawakkol Karman, 19/11/2015

In Lab 5, the Brazilian Jamila Venturini, an awardee from Rising Voices 2011, presented the project “Terms of service and human rights” of the Centre for Technology and Society at the Rio Law School, with representatives present from Mozilla and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). It deals with a methodology for analysing the degree of protection in private life and of freedom of expression guaranteed (or rather not guaranteed) by terms of use for online platforms, which internet users have no other choice but to agree to. The panelists shed a welcome light on these intricate legal matters, dominated again by the Internet behemoth companies. However, there are ways consumers can get their rights respected and say no to a model of “privacy nihilism”.  An audio recording of the session is here.

FMD Lab 5

WFD 2015, Lab 5 “Network Responses”, Jamila Venturini (left side)

The artistic part of the Forum included a performance by graffiti artists:

FMD 2015 art - Snowden

World Forum for Democracy 2015, Graffiti Artists in action,

A meeting room for a Lab:

FMD 2015, en Lab

World Forum for Democracy 2015, Lab session 19/11/2015

Three contributors from Global Voices attended the Forum:

FMD 2015 photo-souvenir

World Forum for Democracy 2015 Photo of the GV family before going their separate ways

Performance by youths for freedom of expression, during the closing of the Forum:

FMD 2015 clôture

WFD 2015, Freedom of expression 20/11/2015 Photo Suzanne Lehn

The Forum also inspired the participation of bloggers, here and here.

Think about signing up for the 2016 Forum on your tablets!


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