Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A Kind and Enlightened Country

According to Reporters Without Borders, www.rsf.org a poet and journalist named Abdallah Al-Ryami has been jailed in Oman. The crime was doing his job, criticizing human rights violations in the Persian Gulf state.

Al-Ryami’s troubles apparently started when he had the temerity to suggest the government wasn’t really interested in undertaking democratic reforms. After that, Reporters Without Frontiers says, he got shut out of the country’s media markets and was harassed by authorities.

The organization called upon the sultanate’s government, “to free Al-Ryami at once and to respect the 1995 Alma-Ata declaration in which it undertook to adopt laws guaranteeing the rights to freedom of expression and opinion, access to information and press freedom.”

It’s worth noting that, by its actions, the government confirmed Al-Ryami’s charge.

Of course this is perfectly medieval and mostly how governments throughout the region mete out punishment to agents of modernity and “westernism.”

the scribe can imagine what it’s like to be picked up and thrown into jail for saying bad things about the big boys and it terrifies him.

Of course, here you could never have the impact one voice of light does in a dark little country, without the connivance of the mass media. And the prerequisite to mass media connivance is that you drop saying anything that might have an impact.

And we have are own sources and sagas of atavism right here in the good old U.S. of A. where stormtroopers and Kafkian nightmares in sprawling prison bureaucracies are not unheard of.

Take the case of Steve McWilliams, the San Diego medical marijuana advocate, who killed himself last week.

Jeff McDonald does an even-handed job of discussing McWilliams’ life in the July 17 “San Diego Union-Tribune.” Read the whole thing here: http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20050717/news_1m17pot.html

McDonald wrote that the activist “almost singlehandedly” forced San Diego to become the first major American city that adopted guidelines for the use of medical marijuana. A gadfly given to public protest, McWilliams was arrested after smoking pot and giving out “samples” at a 2002 rally in Santa Cruz.

As a result, he was sentenced to six months in jail. The sentence was on appeal and McWilliams was denied the use of marijuana in the meantime, despite the California law sanctioning his right to do so.

“When he died,” McDonald writes, “McWilliams was in serious pain from an earlier motorcycle accident, a condition he said was made worse by his abstinence from marijuana. In a note left at his side, he said the discomfort was too much for him to bear and he hoped his suicide would help change the government’s position on the medicinal value of marijuana.”

After the U.S. Supreme Court doused the hopes of medical activists in June by giving federal prohibitions the nod over local freedoms (“All Hopped Up," June 7, 2005), McWilliams “was afraid of going to jail but also feared waiting in limbo for months and years,” the article said.

This is not the comportment of a government that is friend to its own people.

Nor is it an isolated case. Also in the “Union-Tribune,” Onell Soto writes about the heavy-handed way a grand jury is being used to intimidate local, liberal activists: http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20050718/news_1m18active.html

Soto’s July 18 account of two San Diego animal rights activists’ arrest is a similar tale of the conservative culture war in praxis.

The feds are looking into a very successful incident of eco-sabotage where $50 million worth of sprawl were torched back in Aug. 1, 2003. Earth Liberation Front took the blame and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (how’d these things get lumped together?) got federal prosecutors to launch a grand jury investigation.

Anyway the feds suspect some guy gave a speech about the particulars of fire-setting and they’ve arrested two people who were there, but who are refusing to talk about what he said because, guess what, they’re not obligated to.

So they got thrown in jail until they are ready to talk turkey.

Their names are Danae Kelley and David Agranoff.

According to the article, Agranoff says, “The Constitution guarantees him the right to meet with and talk to whomever he pleases, and he’s not going to answer investigators’ questions about that.”

Good for him, but better for us that someone is willing to put their ass on the line to protect vital freedoms.

Not surprisingly, Agranoff thinks the grand jury is being used to harass and intimidate activists. And not surprisingly, the editorial board at highwayscribery agrees with him.

The guy who gave the speech, which does not appear at all related to the big fire, is apparently in violation of a post-Sept. 11 legislation making it illegal to distribute bomb-making information intended for us in a violent crime.

And here’s where people get nervous about The Patriot Act and other “war on terror” measures. These were passed in response to a need for preventing Muslim fanatics from blowing themselves up in places where lots of other people are milling about, living their lives.

But here, and elsewhere, we see them being applied to a situation that is largely domestic and has nothing to do with the death of innocents; just corporate losses. And back in the 1950s you had an anti-communist craze that was used to stifle the surging labor movement and, surprise, limit corporate payouts to workers.

According to the article, “The FBI recently named Earth Liberation Front and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty as the top domestic terrorism threats.”

That’s utterly ridiculous and only serves to trivialize what the real terrorists are doing. Conveniently expanding the meaning of “terrorism” to every kind of disobedience will only serve to dilute the impact of the word/idea and make the government seem like the boy who cried wolf.

Burning an empty housing development down at night has nothing to do with bringing down buildings filled with thousands of people inside. Sabotage is not terrorism and should not be treated as such. Any law that considers them the same should be rescinded and the people that promulgated them brought to account.

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