‘Crowdsourcing Freedom’


 David Keyes

SPEAKER: David Keyes

Executive Director of Advancing Human Rights

TIME: 1 – 2pm, Monday 13 April 2015

VENUE: The Henry Jackson Society, 26th Floor, Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP

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In recent years, the world has borne witness to the huge success of start-ups that connect the millions of people who need something and the millions who have something, with Uber, Amazon, Craigslist and Airbnb being some examples of this trend. At the same time, we are seeing the return of political instability, and at times, repression, on a global stage. The proliferation of areas of concern for those supporting democratic values has been unprecedented, and solutions hard to come by.

Enter Movements.org, a crowdsourcing platform that links human rights activists from closed societies with people around the world who have the power to listen to their stories and help them. It takes on the challenge of empowering individuals and societies living under radicalism and tyranny, and among its early success stories are North Korean defectors connecting with technologists; former Iranian political prisoners writing to policymakers; and Syrian refugees receiving vital representation from lawyers.

What are the prospects for this new approach to a very old problem? Will it prove to be a useful tool for supporting liberal voices in repressive regimes, or is it merely an exercise in innovative thinking? And how can we in democratic societies make use of it to support those who are fighting for basic human rights elsewhere?

The Henry Jackson Society is pleased to invite you to a meeting with David Keyes, Executive Director of Advancing Human Rights. Keyes will share the story behind Movements.org, discuss the successes – and challenges – for the platform to date, and offer his thoughts on the overall concept of ‘crowdsourcing freedom’.



David Keyes, a “pioneer in online activism” according to The New York Times, is the executive director of Advancing Human Rights, which he founded together with Robert L. Bernstein, the founder of Human Rights Watch and former head of Random House. CBS News and PBS credit Keyes with freeing political prisoners and sparking protest movements in the Middle East.

Previously, Keyes served as coordinator for democracy programmes under famed Soviet dissident, Natan Sharansky.  Buzzfeed’s Middle East correspondent called Keyes the “‘it’ boy of human rights agitation.”

Keyes is a frequent contributor to The Daily Beast and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Foreign Policy and many other publications He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, PBS, Al Jazeera and Bloomberg TV.

In 2014, Keyes launched Movements.org as a crowdsourcing platform linking human rights activists from dictatorships with people around the world with skills to help.  Within months and with seed funding from Google, tens of thousands of activists from over 150 countries visited the platform.  North Korean defectors, former Syrian political prisoners, Iranian bloggers and Cuban professors connect with lawyers, artists, journalists, technologists and more.  Leading US senators and parliamentarians from Russia, Canada and Australia used the site to connect directly with political prisoners.

In 2013, Keyes confronted Iran’s foreign minister, Mohamed Zarif, in New York demanding to know when famed Iranian political prisoner, Majid Tavakoli, would be freed.  When the foreign minister told Keyes he did not know who Tavakoli was, thousands of Iranians bombarded Zarif on Facebook.  Days later following a massive international outcry, Tavakoli was temporary released on furlough.  CBS News credited Keyes with freeing the political prisoner.  Iran’s foreign minister wrote several Facebook posts denouncing Keyes.

Keyes’ initiative to rename the streets in front of the embassies of dictatorships after political prisoners was adopted by the US Congress.  In June 2014, the House Appropriations Committee voted to change the street name in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC to “Liu Xiaobo Plaza,” after China’s jailed Nobel Prize winner.  The Washington Post reported that Keyes was the “driving force behind the plans for Liu Xiaobo Plaza.”

Keyes frequently briefs senior policy-makers and speaks Arabic and Hebrew.  He graduated with honours from UCLA in Middle Eastern studies and completed his masters in diplomacy from Tel Aviv University.



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