At the Oslo Freedom Forum’s (OFF) press conference, a question from the audience makes tempers flare.

The Oslo Freedom Forum is a network of passionate advocates committed to the promotion of human rights across the globe. This year OFF took place from May 28-30, 2018. For more information, please visit:

Does OFF «really define the US as a member of the free, democratic world?» The man posing the question to the panel cites the record-breaking percentage of the American population that is currently behind bars, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Obama – who stepped it up with bombings and drone attacks, an enormous surveillance apparatus aimed at its own citizens – and now, most recently, a new head of the CIA with a history of torturing prisoners.

Thor Halvorssen – the founder of OFF and a US resident – answers sharply: «Let me be absolutely clear here. The answer is definitely yes.»

Halvorssen goes on to make a distinction between three different types of government: Full-scale dictatorships (China), authoritarian states based on rigged elections, and well-functioning democracies. And for a state to be ranked among the latter, Halvorssen explains, it must have «free and fair elections, a free and independent press, constraints on and division of power, and a system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government. Moreover, it must have a thriving civil society where people aren’t persecuted or arrested because of their opinions.»

Thor Halvorssen

Halvorssen further makes it clear that OFF doesn’t focus on states like the US, but rather on the authoritarian states that, put together, make up half of today’s states. Countries where the authorities, unlike in Norway, imprison journalists and attack those who challenge the official line.

The man in the audience still insists on focusing on the US, drawing a proper dressing-down from OFF’s chairman Garry Kasparov: «Shame on you! You try to draw the attention away from real abuses, from a world where killings and violence are everyday events! Children are being killed as we’re sitting here!»

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