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An Open Letter to Kim Jong-Un

Dear President Kim Jong-Un

Supreme Leader of North Korea

We write this letter to you to raise a number of points that would demonstrate the depth of international concern about your country. In so doing, our wish is to help you improve your country’s image, strengthen your leadership and help the people of North Korea.

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2013 can be a time of opportunity for you to open a door that has long been shut without regard to the shifts in the world around. You can start off by reworking some policies and practices perpetuated since your father’s time—for the wellbeing of your own people.

More than 200,000 men, women and children are still being held in prisons and gulag camps in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Most of them have been incarcerated for political reasons and are not guilty of any internationally recognised crimes. Prisoners have to endure conditions that resemble the worst forms of human rights abuse and many die of starvation.

The human rights of the people of North Korea are routinely violated, despite its ratification of numerous international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

People are living in constant fear and insecurity, knowing if they do not follow the government-scripted codes of conduct it could result in the loss of their freedom, basic human rights, and their lives. They are subject to enforced disappearance, “unfree labour”, torture and execution.

The DPRK government stands guilty of crimes against humanity and flagrant violations of international laws. It is accused of arresting people on false premises and giving harsh penalties for small offences.

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Millions of North Koreans are suffering from hunger, malnutrition and inadequate health care. According to our understanding, the DPRK government has the capacity and resources to offer a minimum level of care to people but apparently it is neglecting it.

Let’s face it. People’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression and opinion and freedom of religion are not acknowledged in your country. Access to and sharing of information is restricted. The voices of dissent are ruthlessly suppressed. Whatever we know and hear about North Korea—considered to be the most tightly closed-off region in the world—come through the filter of a state-controlled media.

Food Shortages and Famines

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In March 2011, a joint UN survey estimated that over six million people in North Korea urgently required international food assistance to avoid famine. The World Food Programme called it the worst famine in a decade. Several NGOs and media outlets reported hunger-related deaths.

Some of the causes of the famine are harsh winters, destruction of harvests through floods, economic mismanagement, and the government’s discriminating food policies that favour the military, government officials, and other loyal groups.

Since 1995 the United States has provided North Korea with over $1 billion in help, about 60 percent of which was given as food aid and 40 percent for energy, according to a Congressional Research Service report in 2008. The aid was suspended halfway through due to a lack of transparency in aid distribution and the escalating tensions caused by the North’s nuclear missile tests and restrictions on international monitors.

More recently, reports surfaced about a ‘hidden famine’ in the farming provinces of North and South Hwanghae, killing up to 10,000 people so far. People were so desperate to ward off starvation that incidents of cannibalism rose dramatically. Yes, it is hard to believe in this modern age but ‘numerous testimonies’ have confirmed the shocking findings.

The international community is always willing to provide assistance to a people in need. But it is ironic that when you ask for food aid, the first question that comes to their mind is: will it be really delivered to the people for whom it is given, or it will be manoeuvred like before? They fear the fund might be used for military purposes.

Torture and Abuse of Human Rights

Individuals arrested on criminal charges often face torture by officials aiming to enforce obedience and extract bribes and information. Common forms of torture include sleep deprivation, beatings with iron rods or sticks, kicking and slapping, and enforced sitting or standing for hours. Prisoners are subject to pigeon torture, in which they are forced to cross their arms behind their back, are handcuffed and hung in the air tied to a pole, and finally beaten with a club causing loss of circulation or limb-atrophy that often leads to death within weeks.

Guards sometimes rape female detainees. One study done in 2010 found that 60 percent of refugee respondents who had been incarcerated saw a death due to beating or torture. Incidents of cannibalism were also reported in some prison camps as a result of confiscation of meat rations by prison officials.

Executions

North Korea’s Criminal Code stipulates that death penalty could be applied only for a small set of crimes, but these include vaguely defined offences such as “crimes against the state” and “crimes against the people” that could be and are applied broadly. What is concerning is that your government exercises inhuman methods of torture and execution.

In 2001, a condemned inmate had got his body torn apart by guard dogs as executioners fired. Three bullets shattered his skull, splattering blood near other prisoners who were forced to watch.

According to statements of some defectors, forced abortions have also become a common practice, and if babies are born, many of them are killed, sometimes before their mothers’ eyes.

Forced Labour Camps

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Testimonies from escapees have established that persons accused of political offences are usually sent to forced labour camps, known as “gwalliso”, operated by the National Security Agency.

The Kwan-li-so are gulags or concentration camps that, as of 2003, unlawfully detained about 200,000 North Koreans in a total of six to eight camps in remote valleys guarded by high mountains, in the country’s northern provinces. The Kwan-li-so violates international laws on multiple grounds and are generally charged with various crimes against humanity such as forced internment, forced labour, torture, rape, forced abortion, starvation, and death without charge or trial.

It is unfortunate that your government still practices collective punishment, sending people to forced labour camps to work under a “guilt-by-association” system (yeon-jwa-je), where not only the offender but also his or her relatives such as parents, spouse, children, and even grandchildren have to work. Some defected guards have said that they were taught to treat prisoners as national traitors who must suffer condemnation up to three generations of their families.

These camps are notorious for their inhumane living conditions and gross human rights violations, including severe food shortages, little or no medical care, lack of proper housing and clothes, mistreatment and torture by guards, and executions.

Forced labour at the gwalliso often involves strenuous manual labour such as mining, logging, and agricultural work, all done with rudimentary tools in dangerous and harsh conditions. Death rates in these camps are reportedly extremely high.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

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Your government has criminalised leaving the country without state permission and those who leave face harsh punishment if caught, including interrogation, torture, and other penalties. Those suspected of religious or political activities, including contact with South Koreans, are given lengthier terms in horrendous detention facilities or forced labour camps with chronic food and medicine shortages, harsh working conditions, and mistreatment by guards.

Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have fled since the 1990s, and some have settled in China’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. Beijing categorically labels North Koreans in China “illegal” economic migrants and routinely repatriates them.

A number of North Korean women and girls have been trafficked into marriage or prostitution in China. Many children of such unrecognised marriages have been forced to live without a legal identity or access to elementary education, because their parents fear that if they register they would be identified by Chinese authorities and forcibly sent back home.

Government-Controlled Judiciary

Your country’s judiciary system is not independent as all staff including judges, prosecutors, lawyers, court clerks and jury members are appointed and controlled by the Supreme People’s Assembly. The judges remain highly vulnerable to threats from the government which can subject them to “criminal liability” for handing down “unjust judgments.” The penal code, with definitions of offences and penalties often ambiguous and open to interpretation, is not also consistent with the principles of modern criminal law.

Anything done in opposition to the regime is treated as political crimes, leading to strict punishment and subjugation. When a person is arrested for political crimes, suspects are not even sent through a nominal judicial process; after interrogation they are either executed or sent to a forced labour camp, often with their entire families.

Your government uses fear by threats of forced labour and public executions to prevent dissent, and imposes harsh restrictions on freedom of information, association, assembly, and travel.

Your government periodically investigates the “political background” of the citizens to review their level of allegiance to the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WRK), and forces those who fail such assessments to leave the capital.

Military-First Policy

A strong leadership for a battered economy like yours is essential. But you seem to have chosen your father’s military-first policy instead of a peaceful and diplomatic process. Your actions stand in direct contrast to your pronounced resolve to rebuild your country’s moribund economic condition.

This was proven once again on Saturday (26 January) when you decided to take the path of “retaliation” in response to an American-led United Nations sanction on North Korea. You have reportedly ordered your party officials to take “substantial and high-profile state measures” to conduct a third nuclear test to show your ability to “target” the U.S. But the sanction, which was also a response to your government’s December 12 rocket launching, was not uncalled-for. Carrying out such expensive and destructive experiments is not the way to boost an impoverished economy.

Last words

Dear President Kim Jong-Un, have you ever paused for a moment and considered how you really want to be remembered by your people? As a dictator? Or a people’s leader? Perhaps you should. How you are remembered would be determined by how you act as a statesman.

The fact is, your treatment of your people resembles the way some former dictators used to treat their people, sending them to camps or execute them. Hitler organised the execution of the Holocaust, the systematic extermination of six million Jews and millions of other non-Aryans. Josef Stalin deliberately orchestrated the famine that claimed between 7 and 11 million lives in Ukraine and in parts of the Soviet Union. Pol Pot, through his hegemonic agrarian socialism, caused the deaths of approximately 26 percent of the total Cambodian population.

These dictators died a very disgraceful death. Not to mention, their people hated them for what they did and associated them with all that is evil and heinous. We urge you to take lesson from their fates and end all violations of human rights in your country.

We urge you to abandon the decades-long systematic pattern of human rights abuses committed by Pyongyang against its people and sincerely hope that you will create your own legacy. You can restore the North Koreans’ trust in their rulers and gain their respect by upholding their human rights.

If you want to be remembered as the man who stood against the current and abandoned a brutal legacy, it is the time. Your people need democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion. We are in the 21st century and there is no room for dictatorship at the expense of precious lives and basic rights.

Your late father, Kim Jong-II, isolated your people from the modern world, so much so that those few North Koreans who managed to escape had to spend several months in special care schools to adjust themselves to the ways of the 21st century.

Whom are you trying to punish? The western world doesn’t suffer from this, only your people do. Last year’s rocket launch failure cost your government $850 million, enough to feed millions who are starving to death.

Women suffer the most in a famine situation; every 40 of 1000 women had died in the previous famines. They also suffer due to the gendered structure of North Korean society. Women face problems like anaemia, premature birth and haemorrhage because of vitamin deficiency.

Children also face high mortality rates. The main reason behind the deaths of infants under two is the lack of breastfeeding. A child may die because of various reasons such as prenatal, neonatal and postnatal complications. A child may die even long after it was born owing to reasons of malnutrition, infections and so on. So, a high-impact prevention policy is necessary to redress the mortality problems.

Another thing that you should look into is the violation of individual’s right to privacy. Every home in your country is forced to set up a portrait of the “Great Leader” Kim II Sung and the “Dear Leader” Kim Jong II. Inspectors come on a surprise visit and hand out fines if the portraits are not well-kept. Every adult citizen must also wear a button of Kim II Sung!

It is quite ironic that since its establishment, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea could never justify the purpose of its official name. When a country’s name says it is democratic, it has a moral obligation to be so. Its leadership should work towards uplifting the democratic values and allow people to apply their choices to elect or change their own representatives. If North Korea is a democratic state, it is indeed the worst kind of it in the entire history of democracy. There can be no justification for Mao Tse-Tung—styled “people’s democratic dictatorship,” which is only an extended version of dictatorship sustaining repression and regimentation.

A democracy should serve its people’s interests and work for their prosperity by empowering them with the power of their rights and freedom to choose their path of livelihood. The citizens of North Korea under your leadership are far from getting any such privileges. Over the years their lives have been made miserable and their rights deliberately denied.

We, on behalf of your people who have no means to express themselves, would like to pose a few questions which may provide some food for your thought:

Q.1. Being a young leader of this country, what are the ways you seek to bring the lives of the people at par with the lives of those on the other side of the DMZ?

Q.2. Do you and your regime still think you have the consent and mandate from common people to continue your job?

Q.3. In this world of globalisation, is this right to keep North Korea isolated and its people more like distant aliens away from the advancements of civilisation?

Q.4. Is it not your duty to respect the rights of your people who have obeyed your family’s leadership for decades, albeit with little improvement in their living conditions?

Q.5. In what context does your leadership thinks that North Korea could be a role model for peace and humanity for the world?

Q.6. Are nuclear weapons more important than your people’s prosperity? Should they remain hungry and half-fed to fuel your baseless ambitions?

Q.7. Does North Korea’s age-old socialistic framework, which has no acceptance and practicability in this age of democracy, still holds the future for its people?

Mr. President, before you answer these questions, you must first think that even those whom your regime has followed as leadership models were washed over by the tides of time and their system had to be remodelled to suit the needs of a changing world.

You should analyse your position in light of that. The direction in which you and regime have being heading has outlived its relevance. You must change your direction now and democracy is all you have at the moment. You are standing at a crossroads in history and a bold decision can seal your place permanently in the heart of your people. Even with a functional democracy you can continue your lineage and continue to serve your people.

Our humble wish is that you would be able to rise to the occasion and do what must be done today or tomorrow.

On behalf of ‘The Oslo Times’

Yours Sincerely,

Hatef Mokhtar

Editor in Chief

Oslo, Norway

Editor in Chief of The Oslo Times interview with the Hungarian Ambassador Mr. Géza Jeszenszky

Oslo – This is to inform to our readers that today a meeting was to conduct an exclusive interview at the embassy of Hungary with the honorable Ambassador Mr. Géza Jeszenszky.

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The interview was held successfully under the supervision of our editor in chief Mr. Hatef Mokhtar who had gone and conducted this exclusive interview session with the honorable Ambassador. It was a 40 minutes session of questions and answers.

Various issues and concerns were raised during this interview that range from simple economics to the concerning issues like of human rights and democratic transition.

The best part and most vocal message which The Oslo Times got from Mr. Jeszenszky was that he has been an open critique of Communism which he defines it as a long date of the world politics.

The interview session has clearly put across the most vital and strategic point across on the position of Hungary towards global politics, economic crises in Europe, situation of democracy / human rights / media in the erstwhile Communist states that are now progressing towards a major shift to democratic framework in particular Hungary which is experiencing the great leap forward towards the integration with the rest of Europe and the world at large.

In a few days of time The Oslo Times would be going to publish this exclusive interview and wish its readers would find something extra that rest of the media misses out these days.

Stay connected to The Oslo Times for more news updates.

New Year message from the Editor

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It is the time of the year when we reflect over the past and hope for the best in the days and months to come. We carry with us the lessons we learned and the memories we hold dear. As we enter the New Year, we are perfectly aware of the realities of our world—a world that poses formidable challenges yet leaves ample room for new rays of hope to come in.

 

No doubt 2013 will also have its fair share of prospects and challenges. But each challenge will make us stronger and further united in what we do and what we believe in.

In the past year, there have been a lot of challenges, difficulties and tremendous losses. From The Oslo Times, we did our best to update our readers on all important developments. We worked hard to promote human rights and freedom of speech—the two issues fundamental to our movement.
 

There are still a large number of media workers, bloggers and human rights activists behind bars, imprisoned unlawfully for raising their voices for the right causes. People living under corrupt and oppressive regimes are still afraid to speak up and stand for their fundamental rights.

 

They are afraid of consequences if they protest against repression, discrimination and violations of their freedom of expression. All these challenges may very likely be with us in 2013 as well.

 

I would like to thank all our readers and contributors for their support in 2012, and hope that they would continue their support for us. I would also like to thank those who inspired and enriched us with their insightful feedback and lighted our ways with their visions.

With our readership continuing to grow, we could not be more enthusiastic about 2013 and what we can accomplish together with your feedback and continued support.

As the first dawn of the New Year is about to break very soon, let us take a pause and think. Have we come all the way up here, after all the struggles and sacrifices for a just world, only to lapse into silence at this stage?

 

If we cannot join the protests on the streets, let us do what any thinking person can do: share news of HR violations and use our pens to unmask the violators. As Winston Churchill once wrote: “You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police…yet, in their hearts, there is unspoken fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts: words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home – all the more powerful because forbidden – terrify them. A little mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.”
 

HAPPY NEW YEAR

 

Hatef Mokhtar

Editor in Chief

The Oslo Times

Q&A: I was a better person than what was in front of my peers says Rebecca Rifai

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In the image above: (L) Editor in Chief of The Oslo Times Hatef Mokhtar & in (R) Speaker, Artist & Author Ms. Rebecca Rifai of Canada.

REBECCA RIFAI

Speaker, artiste, author:

She has been chiseling her path in the arts for most of her life. Working as a celebrity speaker, actor and recently becoming an author. More importantly, as a humble woman, Rebecca Rifai speaks about the boundaries and opportunities of her industry and world at large. These are her thoughts on public speaking, the arts and everything else.

Rebecca Rifai is not only a very good, humble, honest and refined human being with a lot of sincere good feelings for one and all, she is also a person who has a great understanding and insight as well as respect for freedom, democracy and human rights, for every individual in the globe.

The versatile Rebecca Rifai is also a delightful and charming woman with keen wisdom emanating from her being and added to this is her  gracious personality which radiates like a beam of enlightenment for each and everyone who meets and talks to her.

Madam Rebecca Rifai: “The Oslo Times” feels honoured and privileged to be interviewing you. We are sure that your views will be a boon for our worldwide readers.

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TOT: Well madam, today, you are an authority in the realm of speech making and presentation.  But this hasn’t always been the case for there was a time when you were terrified of public speaking.  Could you share with us the details of a certain blunder or a crippling moment emanating from a sense of stage or crowd fright that occurred early in your life or career?
Rebecca: I always knew that on the inside I was a very confident woman, but having to let this expression surface was difficult for me. Giving a speech at an assembly, conducting class orals, school camps, at Rotary and workshops, these were all opportunities that presented a major challenge. Time and time again I felt embarrassed after speaking to an audience. I knew I was a better person than what was in front of my peers; I just lacked the knowledge to conquer my crippling fear and knew it would take a lot of perseverance to get through this.

“I knew I was a better person than what was in front of my peers; I just lacked the knowledge to conquer my crippling fear and knew it would take a lot of perseverance to get through this.”

As a child, and even now as an adult, surprisingly I am quite shy. It is however the opportunities that I have been blessed with that have allowed my personality to shine. I have been given a voice to inform, inspire and excite. And so as I embrace my career I find myself opening up many opportunities for those that want to build their confidence, to find their voice, to communicate effectively and to become champion speaker.

As the author of Presenting 101, I can relate to those that get nervous. And so what I aim to do with this book is to demonstrate how these nerves can be turned into a positive experience on screen, the microphone, and on the stage. Public speaking is a fearful experience for many, but I will show readers how to run with this and to turn their energy into an empowering experience.

My passion for effective communication transcends through the words on the pages. I want nothing more than to see people succeed at public speaking.

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TOT: In the face of true or imagined fear, people resort to their ‘flight or fight’ mechanism.  What made you choose to fight this specific fear instead of simply avoiding it altogether?
Rebecca: I was a bright student and did extremely well in my areas of interest, which were drama, art, sport and English. The acknowledgement from my teachers helped to feed my desire to do well at what I would commit myself to. Along with this I developed an interest in motivational books. As I read I found other authors who had similar struggles in life and had turned their challenges into something great.

“I learnt at a very young age that I was capable of achieving a lot more that I ever would have thought.”

The authors, my mentors, taught me that it was okay to stand out, that life would reward me with dividends if I took opportunities when they presented themselves to me. They told me to embrace fear; that we never achieve anything great when we live within our comfort zone. And so, I knew that some day, somehow, I would be able to speak up to those that I couldn’t before and create a fruitful life.

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TOT: Well madam, in your opinion, what made you succeed in this domain?  What are the defining qualities that helped you evolve as a presenter?
Rebecca: I believe what it comes down to is the willingness to get the most out of life. Walking with a fear that we believe we cannot overcome is detrimental. Pushing through these fears is empowering. Life is to be embraced. We all have an interesting story to share and we all have the ability to achieve amazing things. A positive mind, trust in yourself and taking the leap of faith is what will build the strength in one’s character and makes one stand out as a leader.
Procrastination is one of human’s biggest flaws. Complimentary to that is a lack of belief in one’s own self. Sometimes the best part of life is about trusting our instincts and challenging others when they say that we can’t do something. If you believe you can’t then at least give it a shot and surprise yourself instead of giving in. If I listened to all of the gremlins in my life that told me to quit I wouldn’t be where I am now.

“Life is a journey. We live and we learn but we must make the most out of it.”

I trusted in myself that through all of my flaws and mistakes I would succeed in public speaking and I am proud of myself for doing so.
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TOT: Well that is nice to hear. Now madam, what was the tipping point in your career?
Rebecca: I had learnt very early on that a career in the entertainment industry meant not worrying about being embarrassed. And so I always took a chance at putting myself forward for interesting roles. Did I feel embarrassed at the time? Sometimes, yes. But I kept taking chances in the hopes that something exciting would eventuate. I had heard that the Commonwealth Games were approaching and that this could possibly be the opportunity that I was searching for, to speak at the event.

At the time I was working for a radio station as a field correspondent. I was young and ambitious and had been recording myself on camera while I would go to the stations events. What I recorded were little pieces to camera about random exciting topics out on the road.

I was never asked to do this; it was just something I liked to do for fun. I never knew, at the time, that this video I recorded would come in use for submitting me for the Commonwealth Games.
So I edited this video together and sent it off. Little did I know that soon I would get a call back to say that I would speak in front of millions of people for the gymnastics at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.

I would be running the show, interviewing the athletes, completing voice over’s and speaking on behalf of the network stations. That was a moment in my life that I will never forget and a moment that is one of the greatest memories I have to be grateful for.

TOT: Your new book, “Presenting 101”, has been launched recently.  In it, you describe the means to develop and hone one’s presenting skills – be it for TV, radio or at events and functions.

However, the book could also help in many ways all those who aren’t necessarily pursuing a career as presenters.  Could you explain in which ways your book might help non-professionals?
Rebecca: This book is about harnessing readers’ confidence to speak to an audience and giving them the tools to ‘think outside the box’. Public speaking is part and parcel of everyday life, be it at a seminar, a wedding or in an office meeting and so why not make it fun? Right? I want readers to develop a passion and excitement for their next public speaking engagement.

It’s an incredibly rewarding experience to be able to get up in front of an audience and to feed off their energy. Readers will develop an enthusiasm for improving their public speaking skills and walk away from the experience with a new open mind.

Periodically I conduct “Presenting 101” workshops. In these, there have been a whole array of people attend. Health care professionals, construction managers, CEOs, teachers, dentists and the likes have celebrated these workshops as being something that has changed their life in a positive way.

I am so proud to say that I have enriched their lives with an experience that they will never forget. I am rewarded by their successes and that is the greatest gift I could ever hope to receive.

TOT: Well madam, some people are naturally eloquent and quick on their feet while others are not.  Do you believe that such qualities could be developed?  If yes, how much could one improve such skills?
Rebecca: Absolutely. As an eternal student of the arts, improvisational skills are an asset. To be able to think quickly on our feet can be developed by tapping into our imagination, developing good listening skills and overcoming the notion of being embarrassed.

The improvisational skills taught in “Presenting 101” will help one muster their inner confidence so as to avoid and overcome being caught out. Readers will learn how to not get stuck on a script, work in synergy with an audience and harness the unexpected.

One of the greatest gifts I can offer in the book is how to overcome mistakes. People often ask me what to do if they fall over on stage, if they forget their lines, or make fools of themselves. What I teach is largely improvisational based, meaning that now people can embrace these moments and turn them into something truly magical, while speaking to a public gathering.

And so it is with learning improvisational skills that someone can overcome being nervous, because all of their greatest fears are addressed and solutions are provided, for each of these. But not only this; it’s also about making speaking memorable words. Some people also fear being boring but now they’ll be anything but this.

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TOT: How long does it take one to start noticing results or improvements – assuming that he/she avidly practices your methods and exercises?
Rebecca: For every person, it is different. But I know that changes can be immediate. Through teaching people in the book and in the workshops I have seen instantaneous improvements.

It’s important to have a mentor who knows the craft you want to learn and so as that mentor I am able to give students the confidence to practice the techniques I teach through example. Sometimes we know the answer to a challenge but lack the guidance to implement these skills.

I give readers lots of options to choose from and with this array of delicious choices come the excitement to surprise themselves. Reading is one thing, if they apply these skills miraculous things will happen. I know … I’ve seen it.

I pride myself as a positive mentor who only wants my students to excel in the art of public speaking. If readers of the book keep an open mind, which I know they can, step by step, they will become brilliant at public speaking.

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TOT: Alright madam. Now please tell us what are you currently working on?  And what is the next step for you?
Rebecca: The book and speaking are my main priority. However my other love is acting; this is something I took up at the age of six. The first half of this year has been very exciting. I’ve recently signed a contract with a leading talent agency and management company in North America and have found a great acting coach named Daniel Bacon.

They’ve been keeping me very busy sending me out on all sorts of wonderful auditions, booking several TVCs and so forth.
My latest role was on a feature for Tides Canada and a shoot for“Jugo Juice”. Canada feels like the right place to be at the moment and so I am taking each day as it comes.

So fingers crossed, I hope the momentum keeps rolling. Other than that I look forward to learning how “Presenting 101” has positively impacted people’s lives. I am truly excited to hear of the results and something tells me that there’s going to be many moments to celebrate.
TOT: Since being attached to the theatre from a long time, do you have any future plans for the promotion of this side of entertainment in your country and the world at large?

Rebecca: The more I think about my craft, the more I keep reflecting on my childhood studying theatre. That part of my life was there for a reason and propelled me into the career I have now.

So, despite my focus for the film and TV industry, I feel that at some stage the theatre will call me back. The stage is a unique platform that captures moments in time that can never be replicated. And because each performance is unique, stepping inside a theatre has always been a magical playground for me.

It’s the experimentation of emotions, serendipity, and subtle changes that an actor is encouraged to bring to the stage that breathes life into each performance. I do have a strong bond with the theatre and while nothing is planned at this stage, I feel that it won’t be long before these changes.

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TOT: In the world, as you know, there are lots of struggles & campaigns going on, so as an artist what is your message to the world audience?

Rebecca: While I am very focused on acting, one of my passions is supporting projects that contribute to the greater good of humanity. Although the film industry can be quite fickle, it is a very powerful medium for providing influential messages. And because of this, I am motivated to establish my own production company and create work that has strong content and humanitarian value. I’m not there yet; it’s only the beginning of my film and TV career.

I know it will be a long and tough road ahead but I am very passionate about the industry, as passionate as I am about public speaking. In the future I see the two of these merging to form a solid alliance of projects that have a positive impact on the world. But to answer your question, my message to the world is an old one but a good one; treat others how you’d like to be treated. If we all lived by this, the world would be a much happier and peaceful place.

TOT: What are the qualities, which are necessary for being a good artist?

Rebecca: Show business is tough. A lot of people enter the business seeking fame and fortune and are greatly disappointed. After all, it is easy to watch an actor in a movie and fantasize about replacing them on the screen, doing what they do but better. Show business is just that, a business.

We are all born a star in our own right, but to make a career out of it takes a lot of courage, discipline and skill. As artists we put ourselves in situations that truly test us. We have to face fears, endure and share pain, overcome continual rejection, sacrifice financial stability and through all of that, we need to keep believing in ourselves when it feels like no one else will.

I believe there are three groups of people in the industry. Those that quit, those that persevere and succeed, and those that are just born lucky. The vast majority of us sit in either of the first two. Those that quit are not without talent, however it is likely that the pressures put upon them pushed them toward quitting.

Those that succeed are not necessarily the most talented; however have the discipline and business acumen to navigate their way through the industry. And those born lucky, well they were born lucky!

Above all, being an artist requires an awareness and understanding of two fundamental things; our social environment (human relationships), and our physical environment. It’s through understanding these complex human elements that we are able to interpret our medium, whether it is a story, music or painting, and present it to our audience.

TOT: Who is your inspiration in the world of art and drama?

Rebecca: As an artist I feel that it necessary to stay true to my journey. While actors like Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis inspire me, it is important to carve my own future rather than becoming an idealized reflection of those who are admired.

Instead, it’s the people on the streets, the lady at the grocery store, the fighting neighbors, and the person running for the bus, the homeless man sleeping in the alley, the lost child, the sadness behind a smile, the romantic couple and the unspoken words that intrigue me.

I derive my inspiration from human interaction and from observing what goes on in the world around me. I want to know what’s on the minds of others, why people do what they do, how did they get to where they are, why do they hold themselves in a certain way, what are their obstacles and motivations.

There is a lot to be learned from observing and asking these questions and because of this, I see a strong correlation between being a journalist and an actor. Both fields satisfy my desire to learn about people and how we as humans fit into the broader spectrum of life.

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TOT: What other traits do you think are essential to become a successful artist? I mean the standards, conduct and ethics?

Rebecca: I think the three most essential traits for a successful long-term career as an artist are honesty, quality and trust. Do you like how I specifically threw in long term there? We’ve all seem what some people have done to get their fifteen minutes of fame. I think that an honest approach, a focus on quality work and an ability to gain peoples trust will get you very far in this business, as well as any other business.

By way of example, people buying my book [Presenting 101] are putting their trust in me to ensure that the book is top quality and that I have their best interest at heart. The same applies to everything I do, whether it’s filming, speaking or presenting.  Without honesty and quality, it’s hard to build trust. And without trust, it’s hard to do anything.

TOT: What are your goals, which you want to accomplish in the near future?
Rebecca: This is a tough question to answer! I have so many things that I’d like to achieve. Ok, here goes.

Firstly, I’d like knowing that my book, Presenting 101, is out there helping people overcome their fear of public speaking or making them an even better speaker than they are today.

Secondly, I’d like to firmly establish myself as an actress in film and TV within the North American market.

Finally, I have been writing two feature film screenplays. One is a comedy set in world of unusual circumstance and the other is a conspiracy thriller. So, I’d really love to see these films made within the next couple of years.

Finally, finally, I’d also like to focus on film and TV projects that empower women. It is far too often that we see women portrayed in demeaning or submissive roles. I think we need to see some more kick-ass girls in film and TV.

Rebecca Rifai – Some of her projects include: The Concours d’Elegance, The Commonwealth Games, CNBC, The World Travel Awards, Virgin Radio, Property TV, B105 and Triple M and has launched various media events for such groups as: Maserati, Ferrari, Bvlgari, Asprey, Crate & Barrel, Bloomingdales and Panasonic.

To find out more about the book Presenting 101: for Television, Radio & Events please head to the website – http://www.presenting101.com

TOT: Thank you madam. We are delighted to have been provided this opportunity. We very much appreciate the fact that despite being involved in several fields you have an independent and open mind with candid and unbiased perception of freedom, democracy and human rights, on the vast vista of the global scenario. We are very much sure that our worldwide readers will benefit a lot from this exclusive interview. Thanks yet again!
Interviewed by Hatef Mokhtar, Editor-in-Chief, The Oslo Times
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©The Oslo Times – All Rights Reserved.

Dictatorship covered in oil

As we read about the modern day dictators especially in the Middle East, Azerbaijan’s dictator President hasn’t been spoken about as much as the others. It is one of the worst countries with a suppressing brutality, undemocratic but with huge oil resources. Azerbaijan is characterized by low levels of freedom of expression and listed among the bottom 20 in Reporters Without Borders, recently released Press Freedom Index 2010. The entire list consists of 178 states.

Azerbaijan has a short history as it was created in 1920 as the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan. They got Zaratustras teaching from the Persians before they were Christianized around 400 BC. A couple of hundred years after, the Arabs brought Islam but the tension remained between Russia, Turkey and the Persians. In 1812, the Russian Tsar won a military campaign against the Shah and the Russians gained control over most of Azerbaijan but the northern part declared its independence in 1918 but was quickly occupied by the Red Army. The communists now took of the silk gloves and eliminated the nationalists, religious and others who might pose a threat towards them.

1988 marked a bloody year as the armed conflict for Nagorno-Karabakh from February 1988 to May 1994 between the majority ethnic Armenians and was backed by the Republic of Armenia and Republic of Azerbaijan which resulted in an ethnic cleansing on both sides. Azerbaijan lost a large part of its territory and the situation is still tense until today.

Aliyev junior, known as a playboy and his affection for luxury life and the roulette table is trying to be more and more like his strong and iron willed father who was a former KGB chief and ruled the country for more than 30 years. Once Aliyev senior ordered shut down for all casinos in the country after his son had got into a huge debt to a Turkish man. But he has done surprisingly well after being vice President of the states oil company since 1994. Aliyev is sharp, well dressed, speaks fluent English and has a charming smile ready for any occasion. He has developed a very good knowledge of the modern world’s politics and economics but the intelligence company Stratfor.com who has links to the CIA described him; “Ilham Aliyev lacks his father’s charisma, political skills, contacts, experience, stature, intelligence and authority. Aside from that he will make a wonderful president.” Ilham Aliyev turned to rule his people with a brutal hand and doesn’t allow democracy and freedom of speech. He even wanted to change the constitution in 2009 enabling him to stand as long as he wants as a ruler.

When Anita Utseth then-Secretary of State for Petroleum and Energy, visited the Oil and Gas Conference in June 2007, she got the chance to join a meeting with Aliyev but it showed to be a disaster when she started talking about free speech and human rights. Utseth was insulted and yelled at and as the U.S. embassy memos that were leaked out to Wikileaks, Aliyev had told her that she had no right to speak about the human right issues and a serious of meetings was cancelled. Later on in a meeting with two managers of the oil company BP, an extremely upset Aliyev said that it was “unacceptable” for Norway to “teach” him about human rights. “It’s only the U.S. that can treat me like this, because the U.S. is the world’s only superpower,” he said, according to embassy note.

4 years later, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway, Espen Barth Eide called on the Aliyev government to respect the human rights followed by the visit of Norways Crown Prince Haakon’s visit to Baku where he expressed his protest against the suppression of human rights and freedom in Azerbaijan explaining that Norway is not only interested in oil but in democracy and human rights as well.

Suppressing journalism

Aliyev has planned to build pipelines that would take Azaerbaijans Caspian Sea gas reserves through Turkey and to the rest of the continent and this diplomatic and global improvement has allowed the western world to ignore the human rights violations. That’s why the government has continued to imprison Eynulla Fatullayev, a 2009 CPJ International Press Freedom Award recipient. The editor of two now-closed newspapers, Fatullayev was imprisoned in April 2007 on a series of fabricated charges, including terrorism and defamation, in retaliation for his investigation into the 2005 murder of his boss and mentor, Elmar Huseynov. He was sentenced to more than 8 years in prison as Fatullayev alleged that Huseynov’s murder was ordered by high-ranking officials in Baku and that authorities had engaged in a cover-up in the aftermath. Fatullayev’s supporters did also face an aggressive campaign of harassment after his arrest and an anonymous male caller telephoned Emin Fatullayev, the editor’s father, at his Baku home and said he and his son must “shut up once and for all” or “the entire family will be destroyed,” the elder Fatullayev told CPJ.

 

In 2007, the Norwegian reporter and documentary producer Erling Borgen and his cameraman Dag Inge Dahl were leaving Azerbaijan after a weeklong reporting trip focusing on freedom of expression and Fatullayev’s case when they were approached by 7 men. The men seized the journalist’s bags claiming they were overweight and checked the luggage. When the journalists arrived in Oslo, Borgen said, the reporting material, video footage, documents and papers were gone from the bags. The journalists had backed up the files, however, and completed the documentary in late year.

The government has also put restrictions about independent online news and many websites with critical journalism have been periodically blocked domestically. For example, the Azeri language website RFE/RL was blocked for two days after it posted a translation of a Washington Post story about nine luxurious homes in Dubai, worth around US$75 million, that had been purchased in the names of the president’s three young children those who documented the problems faced pressure.

President Ilham Aliyev has denied there is a problem with freedom of speech in Azerbaijan but the evidence speaks for its self as journalists and bloggers gets arrested and face restrictions. It is an assault on independent journalism and freedom of speech and I hope that the international world will see through the oil and protest on these human rights abuses.

 

Arab World Unrest – Crisis of Democracy

The bells of Democracy has rang where the Power prevails,

Now our Blood wants the peace,

We live in a world where souls want the shine.

We have now risen to a dawn of democracy

Where the bright freedom lives in mind & loves always shine.

Now there shall be no monarch prevails & no slave lives only the light of heaven prevails!

From more than 4 – 5 decades the people were living in complete closure, where no human has freedom neither of speech nor for expressions. If some one has raised the voiced against the odds her desires & lift was crushed by the owners of the dictating monarchy. In today’s world there is no place for extremism, forced rules, dictatorships. They not only ruined the country & the nativity if governed by the corrupt rulers. The globalize world does not accept the biased system of forced conventions of the self proclaimed bunch of corrupt leaders sticking their own selves on the chair of Power supported by the four legs of corruption, extremism, red tape & greed.

The 2011 has risen up with new dawn of an era which has enlightened the people of Arab World showing the path of their true objective & about their rights towards their nation at large. They have now learn about their freedom and how much it means to them. By looking at other inspiring models of vibrant, flourishing  societies of democratic countries where people live in harmony, have a freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom to choose their leader & if not satisfy then have right to topple the government by system. Where culture has no bar, where religion has its own freedom, where humans can live freely.

After the popular uprisings in Tunisia & Egypt the storm has now turned its direction towards Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Iran though these countries are facing the protests & uprisings in fragmented volumes but the nation which has stormed by wind of democracy after Egypt is Bahrain. Bahraini demonstrators say they want constitutional democracy, the release of political prisoners, more jobs and housing, and removal of the prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the king’s uncle, who has been in office for 40 years. At least 300 people were wounded in the assault, several dozen seriously. A trauma surgeon from Salmaniya hospital was in an intensive care ward after being attacked at the roundabout camp, then handcuffed and repeatedly kicked in the head. In Bahrain where Sunni who are in minority rules the country & Shia who are in majority are deprived of the basic facilities & privileges. When ever there will be theological divide & in justice the voices will be raised It is the same same situation which Iraq had faced during Saddam Hussein rule.

Libya which was earlier bye passed from the effects of uprisings which topple the governments of her neighboring states first in Tunisia then in Egypt is now witnessing the same after 40 years of the strict regime of Col. Maummar Gaddafi. But Libya is on somehow at the better end as it has a flourishing economy, burgeoning GDP among African Countries, employment rates are good but even having such a strong economy it faces the rage of protesters & that is because of lack of fundamental rights given to the citizens of this country. Report shows that thousands of anti-government protesters have been on the streets of Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi, a day after demonstrations led to fatal skirmishes with the security forces. Tight controls on media and communications in Libya made it difficult to assess the extent of the violence, but unverified reports on social network sites said up to 50 people had died. Gaddafi’s opponents say they want political freedoms, respect for human rights and an end to corruption. Gaddafi says Libyans enjoy true democracy. But the question arises then why people are protecting? It just because they want a simple freedom of democracy which will not only set the benchmark but also defines the future of the people.

The effects of these uprisings or it would be better to say a revolutionary change in the regional will also brings the aftermath not only to the region but also to the world economies. After the back breaking recessionary period of 2008 – 2009 the world is recovering from the ill effects of it but have also saw the rise of inflation in terms of food, & mineral resources which not only effected the growth but also grounded the process of development. & now these crisis which will push the bubble up more increasingly by affecting the oil prices through out the world. But there is a famous saying that every change has some consequences of its own which has to be borne by the future generations.

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