This is the Young People's Freedom of Expression Council

September 4 2020

Sixteen young people have now been chosen to participate in the Young People’s Freedom of Expression Council. They will meet over the next year to survey the status of freedom of expression in their own age group, and to make specific suggestions for how to get more young people engaged in the public debate.

In June 2020, Norwegian PEN and Fritt Ord announced plans to establish a Youth Council to discuss and assess challenges and opportunities for young people in today’s climate for freedom of expression. Young people between the ages of 16 and 26 were invited to apply.

When the deadline expired on 1 July 2020, 119 applications had been submitted. The 16 council members include 10 girls, five boys and one non-binary transgender individual. The participants were selected to ensure broad representation with a view to gender, age, functional variation, geography, background and experience.

“We had many qualified applicants for the Council, and it was difficult to choose the 16 finalists. The participants were selected for their experience and knowledge, and to create a good mix on the Council. I believe that we have assembled a group of individuals who can complement and challenge each other. Meanwhile, we all share the experience of being young in Norway today, and the challenges inherent in using one’s voice in the public sphere”, says author and human rights activist Nancy Herz, leader of the Council.

The participants in the Young People’s Freedom of Expression Council will meet for four weekend sessions during the 2020-2021 school year. Ultimately, the Council will make specific proposals about how to engage more young people in the public debate.

“Norwegian PEN’s primary goal when we took the initiative for this project was to raise awareness among young people about the importance of freedom of expression, encouraging more young people to take part in the public debate. The considerable interest demonstrated in the Young People’s Freedom of Expression Council is very gratifying. It bears witness to the profound need for a council that allows young people to get together and analyse, discuss and try their luck at resolving other young people’s challenges with a view to freedom of expression. We are looking forward to following up the opinions and recommendations of young people to achieve a climate for debate that is inclusive”, remarks Secretary General Hege Newth of Norwegian PEN.

“Surveys have shown that young people are high-volume consumers of social media, at the same time as this same group is the most hesitant about expressing opinions publicly. Fritt Ord hopes that the Youth Council will be able to help identify challenges facing young people today, and to show alternative options that are available. We would like to provide teens and young adults an arena for developing solutions that will better equip them to participate in the social debate”, according to Anne-Lise Sognnes, as Joakim M. Lie nods in agreement. They are the Fritt Ord Foundation’s project managers for the Youth Council.

The 16 members of the Council

Nikita Amber Abbas (19) was born and raised in Oslo and comes from a Pakistani background. She has studied subjects related to children and young people that qualify for university admission, and she currently works at the University of Oslo. She has held offices in Plan International, Plan International Norway’s Youth Advisory Panel, Norwegian Association of Disabled Youth, the Youth Hotline and the Youth Council for Oslo University Hospital. “I want to be a voice for all those who are unable to use their own voice. I want everyone to be heard, regardless of who they are or where they live.”

Ask Berglund (24) is originally from Helgeland, but now lives in Bærum. They have several years’ experience with volunteer youth work, mainly with Queer Youth, where they have held both local and national positions of trust. “As a member of the Young People’s Freedom of Expression Council, I want to offer my perspective as a non-binary transgender person on the issue of utterances that curb others’ freedom of expression and freedom to live a free life.”

Steve Contreras (25) is from Oslo, but lives in Bergen. At present, he is in his final year of studying philosophy and his third year of law school at the University of Bergen. Through his studies, he has been active as city manager for Future Leaders Bergen and project manager for “Innorett Days”, a conference on technology and the law. “The perspective I intend to bring to the Young People’s Freedom of Expression Council is that I want to challenge what people know ‘for certain’, and encourage a more humble approach to knowledge.”

Sara El-Hasan (21) is a Norwegian-Syrian who is currently in her final year of the bachelor’s programme in political science at the University of Oslo. She has previously served as student council president at Kuben (Oslo’s largest upper secondary school), deputy chair of the Youth Council at Stovner, a volunteer at the Volunteer Centre at Stovner and head of Amnesty International’s youth group at Kuben. “What motivates me most to serve on this Council is that freedom comes in different shapes and sizes, and freedom of expression under any circumstances is one of them. Being able to exercise that freedom in respect of important and, not least, touchy issues, is not easy. This is especially true for young adults from multi-cultural backgrounds, like myself. There is a voice inside me that I want to use to counter the challenges.”

Eliana Hercz (25) comes from Oslo. She is in her final year of a master’s programme in religion and social studies at the University of Oslo. In recent years, she been active in bridge-building and dialogue work in the school system through the project Jewish Pathfinders and as project coordinator for the Dialogue Pilots. In those capacities, she has worked with topics such as identity, prejudice, outsiderness, racism and anti-Semitism. “A common denominator in these efforts has been to encourage awareness of the relationship between freedom of expression and the responsibility to speak out, an issue I look forward to exploring through the Young People’s Freedom of Expression Council.”

Samara Isak (18) was born in Somalia and came to Norway when she was one year old. She is in her third year of upper secondary school, specialising in general studies. She has expressed her opinions through letters to the editor of the newspaper Aftenposten, among other places. “For me, it is important to show that we as young people do not take freedom of expression for granted”.

Sheila Feruzi Kassim (26) was born in Bergen and grew up in both Norway and Tanzania, where her family originally came from. She works as a freelance film and video producer in Bergen, and is also chair of the Board at Vuma Projects, where she concentrates on challenges involving freedom of expression. “I have moved from a high degree of self-censorship to an awareness of freedom of expression and participation. Through the Young People’s Freedom of Expression Council, I want to share my thoughts about this, while learning more about how to be inclusive and get more people involved in the public debate.”

Marianne Knudsen (20) is from Trondheim, and studies sociology. She is vice president of the Norwegian Association of Disabled Youth, an ambassador for the campaign ‘Stop hate talk’, and hosts the podcast “Disabled”. “I am both queer and disabled, putting me in a position to contribute important minority perspectives to the work with freedom of expression.”

John-Egil Svinsås Johansen Magga (24) comes from Tromsø. He is studying political science at the University of Tromsø. He has held a variety of offices, e.g. in Young Liberals of Norway, Tromsø Liberal Party, the National Association of Norwegian Sámi and the Sámi young people’s organisation Noereh. “Owing to my Sámi identity, I want be sure that indigenous voices are heard in this work.”

Anna Malkenes (16) lives at Bøler and is in her first year of upper secondary school in Oslo. She has been involved in politics since she was 11 years old. She was born at Tøyen, and attended lower secondary school in both Bremanger in Sogn & Fjordane County and at Skullerud on the east side of Oslo. “This gives me experience that I hope will bring important perspectives to the work of the Young People’s Freedom of Expression Council.”

Bibi Fatima Musavi (22) is from Oslo, and has earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from OsloMet. She is currently enrolled in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Oslo. “I come from Oslo, where I’ve lived my entire life, and I still live here at Nordstrand. I want to join the Council because I would like to strengthen the voices of young people in the social debate, especially the voices of minority youth.”

Haydarali Nawrozi (21) came to Norway as an unaccompanied minor asylum-seeker eight years ago, and now lives in Drammen. He is taking a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Southeastern Norway. “By speaking up, we can express ourselves and exchange ideas and opinions. I grew up in a society where expressing opinions was extremely limited and difficult, so I feel very strongly that freedom of expression is imperative.”

Agnes Nordvik (18) is from Oslo, and is in her final year of upper secondary school. At age 13, she started to participate in the social debate, and today she holds several offices, including chair of the Labour Party’s gender parity campaign #Hunbørstille (#SheShouldRun) and she is a junior adviser at URO, the youth organisation of Plan International Norway. “Many of us experience online harassment, which is a democracy-related problem. I’m looking forward to being on the Young People’s Freedom of Expression Council because we need a social debate that is open to everyone!”

Katrine Opheim (21) comes from Tromsø and Kirkenes. At the moment, she lives in Oslo, where she is enrolled in International Studies at the University of Oslo. She studied at the United World College of Changshu China for two years. In her time off, she is active with feminist student radio on Radio Nova. “I am concerned about the culture of silence and structural challenges related to freedom of expression.”

Oliver Stavik (21) has grown up in a rural district on the coast of Romsdal County, but lives in Trondheim at present. He is studying Industrial Economics and Technology Management at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. He has previously studied law at the University of Oslo and worked for the Norwegian-German Chambre of Commerce. “I accepted the offer to serve on the Council because freedom of expression is not – nor is supposed to be – easy. For that reason, it must constantly be defended against intolerant people.”

Henrik Stokke (24) comes from and lives in Kråkstad, near Ski. He has his guild certificate as a media graphics artist and is currently studying Socioeconomics at the University of Oslo. He has previously worked as a project team member at the Civita Think Tank. “I’m a member of the Brunstad Christian Church, and I’d like to promote the views of young Christians and other people of faith in the debate about freedom of expression and on the Council, and discuss how one deals with people with other philosophies of life in the community.”

Contacts:

Hege Newth, Secretary General of Norwegian PEN: hege@norskpen.no, mobile: +47 930 02 262

Anne-Lise Sognnes, Fritt Ord: “annelise@frittord.no”:mailto:annelise@frittord.no or mobile: +47 905 84 316 (Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

About the organisers:

Nancy Herz (24) is a prize-winning Norwegian-Lebanese writer, speaker and human rights activist who grew up in Haugesund. She is co-author of the book Shameless (Gyldendal, 2017) and is passionate about freedom of expression, women’s rights and the right to live freely.

Norwegian PEN is an independent member organisation that is the Norwegian branch of PEN International, the world’s largest organisation for writers and freedom of expression. Norwegian PEN strives to promote free speech in Norway and abroad, focusing inter alia on imprisoned and persecuted writers, journalists and others who oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression, whistle-blower protection, freedom of the press, data protection, and promoting general awareness and knowledge about the value of free debate and freedom of culture.

The Fritt Ord Foundation is a private non-profit foundation that aspires to promote freedom of expression, public debate, art and culture. Each year, Fritt Ord provides a large number of grants for different projects that encourage dynamic debate and the fearless use of free speech, and for research projects in the field of freedom of expression. Fritt Ord also organises an annual competition, inviting upper secondary school pupils to submit entries that address freedom of expression and democracy.

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