The Stifling of Dissent and the Legacy of Occupy

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photo by Occupy Global / flickr

The use of the law to keep people from protesting and assembling did not start with the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011.  In fact, for hundreds of years, since the birth of the United States, there has been a slow but steady effort to keep people from being able to lawfully protest and organize.  During the occupy movement there were extensive discussions about democracy, freedom, economics, and our future. Somewhere behind it all, there was the issue of laws and what protesters can and cannot do.  In the end it was the police armed with tear gas and legal ordinances who were able to clear people out of the public squares they had peacefully occupied.  In this podcast we speak with attorney  Joshua Dratel, the first civilian defense lawyer to have worked with prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.  His recent article “The Evaporation of American Political Dissent” talks about the long running degredation of the right to protest and assemble in the United States.

Galvanizing Canadians

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Galvanize 1. b: to stimulate or excite as if by an electric shock


Photo by palindrome6996

News out of Canada today still lacks in-depth information and examination, but so far what is coming out is that a same sex couple who got married back in 2005, while trying to get a divorce, were told by the Canadian government that their marriage had never been legal. The British-American couple was shocked at this revelation, and according to the Toronto Star (newspaper) the same applies to thousands of other same sex marriages between non-Canadians that have taken place in Canada since 2004.

If you remember back to 2004, it was the height of same-sex marriage phobia in the United States, and the re-election of George W. Bush.  Americans, as well as people from all over the world who could manage it, went to Canada where the country had embraced its role as a nation where same sex marriages could be legally performed and recognized. The government even used this image, as they do to this day, as part of their promotion of  Canada as a world leader in human rights.  The reports that have surfaced this week indicate that government lawyers are now arguing in court that if same sex marriages aren’t legal in the home country of those getting married, then the marriage isn’t legal in Canada either.

In the coming days the government as well as the lawyers may change their story. The prime minister, unsurprisingly, claims ignorance as to any change in government policy.  But regardless of what elected officials, lawyers or the media say, this development should be enough to galvanize Canadians who value human rights and equal treatment. The spark that reawakens a movement that has, perhaps, fallen asleep to what seemed like mission accomplished.  Suddenly betraying thousands of couples should be an electric shock that sweeps representatives out of office, and embarrasses lawyers and others into resignation and generally speaking – the social wilderness. This is the time to take something horrible and turn it into a rally cry to demand justice, a real, lasting justice that cannot be undone.

Thailand’s Oppressive Media Law

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It was the summer of 2008 and I was in Bangkok, Thailand, on a then work related trip that left me enough spare time to look around and do some reporting.   My focus included alternative media, and lucky for me, a good friend introduced me to Jiew, editor of the alternative magazine  We did a very interesting and informative podcast about the situation in Thailand, which included a discussion of the limitations on press freedom in that country.

During the interview we touched upon the “Lèse Magesté”: extremely oppressive laws that govern how you can or cannot talk about the royal family.  As a journalist, you are not allowed to criticize the royal family in publications.  Doing so would constitute a serious offense and while I can’t remember what the average sentence could be, I remember it was bad.  Jiew was extremely well versed in what a reporter or media channel could and couldn’t do in their work, even an alternative source.  To my surprise she even asked me to turn off my recorder when we got to the part about the laws regarding media and the royal family.  She explained off the record how it works and the risk that one ran by publishing anything considered critical the exalted king.  It marked, still to this day, one of the few times in the 7 year history of my program, that I’ve had to turn off a recorder for legal reasons- even just to hear a seemingly harmless explanation of the rules.

Over the years Jiew and I have of course remained in contact, whenever there’s something (and there always is) going on in Thailand or SouthEast Asia, I know I can ask her for help with information or perhaps a good source to better understand what is happening.

Unfortunately, and to my great shock and disappointment, the Thai government is now pursuing a case against her.  Claiming, I believe, a violation of the Royal Family criticism laws at her publication; they are seeking a jail sentence.  As many watchdog groups have reported, the government is clearly afraid of someone so committed to reporting what is really going on behind the dog-n-pony show Thailand puts on for the tourist masses.

And so an excellent journalist, a friend of this, and someone who has dedicated her life to making the world around us a better place faces the looming threat of being convicted of a crime that should have long been stricken from the legal books in favor of real universal human rights.  All the more reason for us to help Jiew beat this bogus charge in any way we can, so she can fight twice as hard next time to keep this from happening ever again.

(To be continued, trail posponed to February)

Power and Uprising in Angola

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This month saw one of the first major uprisings against the government in Angola in recent memory. It was organized, you guessed it- with the help of social media. After Gaddafi, President José Eduardo dos Santos is the longest running leader of an African state (32 years). And just like with  the now-fugitive Muammar, many are saying this presidency has gone on for too long. But can change finally come to Angola?

Joining me for a podcast conversation about the reports that have come out of Angola this month is citizen of the world and Global Voices contributor Janet Gunter.  Together we try to understand and explain where the country stands when it comes to politics, economy, human rights, and prospects for the future.