The Conference on Cyber Dissidents highlighted the work, methods, courage and achievements of its eight dissident guest speakers, from seven nations. Five of these nations are places where freedom has been extinguished (all rated “not free” by Freedom House): China, Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Russia. Two others are places where freedom is in peril (both rated “partly free” by Freedom House) because of an authoritarian government accumulating more power, as in Venezuela, or because of the threat of internal terrorist groups, as in Colombia.
All of the dissidents who were able to join the Conference are key leaders; several must live in exile; two have served extensive time as political prisoners. And all of them have made use of new online, Internet and mobile technologies in their non-violent struggle against state oppression, lack of press freedom and official and unofficial terror and violence.
The Conference is the inaugural event of the The George W. Bush Institute’s Area of Focus on Human Freedom, and includes the Institute’s first two Visiting Fellows in Human Freedom: Oscar Morales, from Colombia, and Mohsen Sazegara, from Iran. The co-sponsor of the event was Freedom House, the non-partisan organization founded by Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie in 1941.
The Conference honored the work and the courage of the dissidents who spoke and the aspirations for freedom in each of their countries they represent. As James K. Glassman told the attendees, the Bush Institute and Freedom House hope their work “will become a beacon to others, who can be both inspired and educated. At few times in history, has work like theirs been more important.”
And when the “voices of freedom and tolerance face serious challenges,” as Laura W. Bush said, President Bush “and I believe it is vital that they know that the people of the United States stand behind them.” But the Institute’s mission is not merely to appreciate the great ideas and (in this case) the courage of people who stand up for them, but to take action that engages and enables these ideas to work in the practical world. Accordingly, the Conference’s work focused on two challenges:
•How best to make use of the new tools that Internet and wireless technology have placed in the hands of contemporary dissidents and citizen freedom movements on four continents
•How to overcome the use of the same tools in the hands of the enemies of freedom, in the specific countries where our speakers work and elsewhere.