Why do people say that Bitcoin is freedom? The expression, widely used to represent Bitcoin’s capability to bring power to those oppressed by their governments or communities, has become a cliché that many parrot without stopping to think through what it means.
At Bitcoin 2022, the Human Rights Foundation’s (HRF's) chief strategy officer Alex Gladstein moderated a conversation between Palestinian democracy advocate Fadi Elsalameen, Togolese human rights activist Farida Nabourema, and North Korean defector and activist Yeonmi Park. United by a quest for freedom, the panelists discussed the role that Bitcoin can play in empowering individuals worldwide.
Nabourema said that she is working to “deploy education programs that teach the power of Bitcoin so people can fight the regime anonymously,” a program that HRF is helping spearhead.
Nabourema has experienced the power that control over money can have. Togo, a West African country that lies between Ghana and Benin, has for over five decades been ruled by the same family, which cracks down on freedom of speech and dissent.
While the country gained independence from France in the 1960s, the then-president was shot dead by a group of French-trained Togolese soldiers days before he would create the Central Bank of Togo and issue the Togolese franc. The move, which would bring financial independence to Togo, was not appreciated by the colonizer.
“In 1964 and 1969, the French government decided to reduce the value of our money by half,” Nabourema said. “As a result, you have over 50% of the population in these countries living under extreme poverty.”
Nabourema went on to explain that with Bitcoin, the people can have hope because it is out of the control of the government.
“The interesting thing about Bitcoin is that it allows us to decolonize our country,” she added. “Bitcoin is the decolonization money.”
Park also suffered from authoritarianism. Park explained in an episode of the “Bitcoin Fixes This” podcast that there is no private property in North Korea, and the country’s financial system is a mess. She said in the podcast that she doesn’t trust governments, which can take away people’s money at a whim. For Park, Bitcoin provides a solution.
In countries like North Korea and China, Park said, “There’s no way you can hide anything in your body, but with bitcoin you can hide it in your mind.”
Park also said that when trying to escape from North Korea to the U.S., many women end up in China, who end up being used as “sex slaves” by men who can’t find a wife. But once they have children, she said, the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t issue them an ID document because they don’t recognize them.
“The kid then can’t go to school without the ID,” Park added. “There’s a way we can empower these women and children with bitcoin.”
Elsalameen echoed Park’s thoughts. He believes that with Bitcoin, Palestinians can fight back peacefully in a place where corruption and inefficiencies plague the governmental and financial institutions.
“If today I want to wire money to my mom who lives in Lebanon, I have to worry about many regulatory issues, it’s not very simple,” Elsalameen said. “The more I learn about Bitcoin, the more I realize if someone can be their own bank with Bitcoin, I’d rather use Bitcoin.”
Elsalameen is also working with the open source Bitcoin project SeedSigner to bring hardware wallet devices to Palestinians.
Bitcoin enables individuals worldwide to find freedom because anyone can use it, irrespective of race, gender and power status, and no one can stop it or control it. By taking the power over money away from a centralized entity, Bitcoin restores individual rights lost in authoritarian regimes worldwide.
Bitcoin 2022 is part of the Bitcoin Event Series hosted by BTC Inc, the parent company of Bitcoin Magazine.