Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Freedom or Speech?

The freedom to say what we want when we want provided to us by the First Amendment is one that can be easily taken for granted by Americans. Not so anymore, one can imagine, for Iranian-American reporter Roxana Saberi who was released from jail yesterday after being detained in Evin, an Iranian prison since January 31st of this year.

Saberi who was in Iran doing some freelance reporting for the BBC was arrested for allegedly trying to purchase alcohol, something which is against the law in the country. It was until after her initial arrest for purportedly trying to procure the illegal substance did they then levy the much more serious charge of espionage against her--later sentencing her to an eight year prison term in a closed one day trial. This sentence, the heftiest ever brought down upon a dual national, prompted President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to dismiss the charges of espionage as groundless and to call for her immediate release.

It wasn't until after 3 months, international pressure, and a 15 day hunger strike by Saberi herself, did Iranian officials lower the charges from espionage to possession of classified information--reducing her sentence to a two year suspended term and a five year revocation of her reporter's license in the country.

This high profile case provides an excellent forum for conversation about freedom of expression with your students. The five freedoms listed in the First Amendment—religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition form the foundations of American democratic government. Talk about countries like North Korea and Iran that do no have these freedoms and how they differ from the U.S. Why would the governments of those countries prefer not to endow those rights to their citizens? How does this affect the information that their citizens receive? Discuss our own government's motivations for adding the amendment to the constitution.

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