Thursday, April 17, 2008

Where Speech Is Still Not Free

I see bumper stickers all the time that reflect the anger of the driver, mostly about the current administration. As I drove down a quiet Arlington street the other day, I saw a sign in a front yard that said “Impeach them both” with “Bush and Cheney” hand-written in below, as if anyone would have a doubt about who they meant. I thought to myself how great it is that we can wear our feelings for the public to see with no fear of reprisal.

Then I read today’s Washington Post article about Wang Qianyuan, a freshman at Duke University, who by a well-meaning act has set off untold anger in the Chinese community around the world.

What had she done? Written “Save Tibet” in blue body paint on the backs of some American students who were participating in a vigil in support of human rights. It was never her intention to join the protest.

In no time at all a photo of Wang, standing between the pro-Tibet activists and the Chinese counterprotesters, appeared on the Internet. That unleashed a flurry of angry comments, some sexual in nature but others as strong as “Shoot her where she stands.”

In addition her personal information and that of her parents back in China was made public and they too began to take on the punishment for her actions. They have since had to move.

Since this happened, she has communicated daily with her parents only by e-mail, fearing that their phone is bugged. Her father urged her to make a public apology, which she refuses to do because of her strong belief in human rights.

It’s stories like this that make me realize what a treasure the First Amendment is. Although some of our Constitutional rights have recently been threatened, we can still express our thoughts openly without fear.

I wonder what will become of Wang? Will the Chinese find better people to torment and will she eventually slip into anonymity once again? Or did this one act have a permanent effect on her future? I suppose only time will tell.


Blogger Kristin said...

If not for the accident of birth and growing up in the middle of these United States, I'd probably be in a lot of trouble by now.

1:35 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- Me too.

4:43 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

me three. let's hope these freedoms we do enjoy are not taken away.

6:27 AM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

She is inspirational and very brave. I hope nothing terrible happens at the Olympics.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Pauline, MOI -- Yes and yes!

11:06 AM  
Blogger mouse (aka kimy) said...

if wang and her family believe their phones are bugged (and they are) then they are very mistaken if they believe their email communication is safe from scrutiny.

8:33 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Mouse -- You're probably right. It would be so frightening to think you couldn't talk to your family without someone else knowing! I really do wonder what will happen to this girl if and when she goes home. Will the authorities be waiting for her at the airport?

8:49 AM  

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