LGBT rights activist praises Taiwan as 'Island of Hope'

Omar Sharif Jr., an Egyptian activist, spoke in Taipei at Saturday at the Oslo Freedom Forum

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(Taiwan News Image)

(Taiwan News Image)

TAIPEI (CNA) -- Omar Sharif Jr., an Egyptian activist fighting for the rights of the LGBT community, on Saturday praised Taiwan as an "Island of Hope" for its push to legalize same-sex marriages, saying that marriage equality will only make a country stronger.

Speaking during the 2018 Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) in Taipei, Omar Sharif Jr., the grandson of film star Omar Sharif, the leading actor in the film Doctor Zhivago, said after he came out as a homosexual in 2012, he received threats of violence and death and had to leave Egypt. He hasn't been back since.

He said he was extremely happy to be visiting and speaking in Taiwan because of the country's ongoing push for marriage equality.

"The tide of tolerance is inevitable, I look to you, to Taiwan. Now I stand in an island of hope, Taiwan has the opportunity to prove love always conquers hate," he said.

Amid accusations that marriage equality for LGBT people could destroy social norms, Omar Sharif Jr. said this is exactly the opposite intention of the equal rights movement.

"Marriage equality only makes for a stronger country, marriage strengthens family, and make for a stronger Taiwan," he stressed.

"My story is just one out of many millions but it does not make it small. One victory at a time, Taiwan first," he concluded.


Omar Sharif Jr. (CNA Image)

Taiwan's constitutional court in May 2017 struck down the definition of marriage in the Civil Code and ordered that the law be amended within two years to redefine marriage as that between two people, not just a man and a woman.

If relevant laws are not amended or enacted within two years, same-sex couples will be allowed to marry under the law, using the same process laid out in the Marriage Chapter of the Civil Code, the court said.

Omar Sharif Jr. is one of the speakers of the Oslo Freedom Forum, an international forum focusing on repressive countries.

Organized by the New York-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF), OFF, founded in 2009, has evolved from an annual flagship event in Oslo to include satellite events around the world, including New York, Johannesburg, Mexico City, and now Taiwan.

In his speech, Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian democracy activist, criticized the dictatorship of Vladimir Putin's administration.

He said there are currently around 200 political and religious prisoners jailed in Russia. But he and a group of activists have been pushing for Russian democratization in an attempt to restore rule of law, and democratic elections in his country.

Despite facing threats from the Russian government, for instance, he himself had been poisoned twice over the past two years and was nearly killed, Kara-Murza said he and other believers of democracy won't back down.

"In the end, however, ... when enough people are willing to stand up, we will succeed," he affirmed.

Meanwhile, Megha Rajagopalan, an American reporter for Buzzfeed News reminded the audience of the surveillance and mass incarceration of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region of northwest China.

She said Beijing has been deploying high tech facial recognition surveillance systems around Xinjiang to monitor the region. Such technology has now been used in other parts of China and is being sold to other parts of the world.

She warned that the system will likely be abused by governments without proper privacy protection.

"The technology and tools are already out there. Does the rest of the world care enough to act on it?" she noted.