We in the West take free speech for granted. Well, many of you do. It’s a more rare and precious thing than many people realise.
- In Iran, a blogger on traditional Persian music and culture, Omidreza Mirsayafi, has just died in prison – jailed for speech that “insulted” the regime. Killed for a lack of free speech. Don Watkins has the story.
- In Malaysia, popular blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin (RPK) was locked up for in a high security prison for “postings in the Malaysia Today blogsite were prejudicial to the security of the country.” Unrepentant after his release due to public pressure, he has now been charged again under Malaysia’s Internal Security Act (ISA) “in connection with articles posted on his Malaysia Today blog” and faces the possibility of being imprisoned again. “If I have to lose my freedom so be it. That is the price we pay for opposing the powers-that-be,” says RPK. “But I shall not go quietly or make any deals to secure my release with those who walk in the corridors of power. (Oh, and the Malaysian government has banned two opposition party newspapers for three months.)
- In Morocco, blogger Hassan Barhoum was jailed for circulating a petition accusing a local prosecutor of corruption.
- In Burma, young blogger Nay Phone Latt was imprisoned for twenty years after publishing a cartoon of junta leader General Than Shwe, and “possession of a film regarded as subversive by the military government,” and a poet was sentenced to two years for Saw Wai, was sentenced to two years in prison for a poem containing a coded criticism of Than She. (Reporters Without Borders have a petition calling or Nay Phone Latt’s release.)
- In Syria, cyber-dissident Habib Saleh is jailed for three years for criticising the government in online articles, his third conviction in seven years. He was convicted under article 285 of the criminal code of “weakening national sentiment.” Reports RSF: “Five cyber-dissidents are currently detained in Syria because of what they posted online. Seven young activists have also been held in Saydnaya prison for nearly three years for creating an online discussion group and posting articles. They include Omar Abdallah, the son of Syrian journalist Ali Abdallah, who was held for six months in 2006 for criticising the government, above all in an article describing the Syrian economy as ‘weak’.”
- In South Korea, blogger Park Dae Sung faces a five-year sentence for blog posts that “affected foreign exchange markets and the nation’s credibility.”
Free speech is a more rare and precious thing than we sometimes imagine – even in the West. Says Don Watkins:
During the Danish cartoon crisis, our leaders did not champion our right to speak freely–they criticized those who “offended Islam.” Years earlier, during the attempt to silence Salman Rushdie, our leaders did not denounce Iranian intimidation and assure Americans that our right to free speech would be protected–they issued meek and empty protests while bookstores were firebombed. That’s to say nothing of the countless other restrictions on free speech we tolerate (or champion), such as limits on political speech through campaign finance laws.
So how do we stop taking free speech for granted? By learning what it is, why it is important, and then defending it unwaveringly.
UPDATE 1: Why do authoritarians hate free speech? Because ideas have power.
Though I was born into a Muslim family, I became interested in Islam only after 9/11/01 when 19 Muslims murdered 2,996 human beings in the name of Islam. Those who always gave a damn for the truth did their homework and found out first hand what Islam really meant before they said one word about it. But then there were the politicians and the ideologues. Even before the smoke cleared, Western politicians and intellectuals who knew nothing about Islam could not wait to exonerate it by uttering the anti-reality check of our time: “Islam means peace” . . .
In a world where men fly planes into towers and are celebrated as heroes by the vile culture that breeds them, we need a new kind of hero that symbolizes our battle against such evil. An icon against jihad who does the right thing no matter how bad it looks, and who brings an unprecedented ruthlessness to the enemy. A hero who is a great villain to all those who had a good day on 9/11/01.
Ready or not, here comes Pigman.
For those who don't know, Pigman's suit is made in part with pigskin leather, exploiting the enemy's pigotry.
UPDATE 2: Another one from the Fighting Back files is this report from Roar Prawn:
Brave and dogged blighters in Tibet are finding their painstaking way around China’s overbearing internet firewall making contact with their Mandarin speaking brethren, person by person, using chat channels. In the face of China’s massive population it’s a staggeringly Sisyphean task, but one that has to be admired.