On security and freedom of speech

Today, some Jordanians have called on bloggers to draw attention to the 18 Jordanian citizens who are currently languishing in Jordanian prisons for things that they have said. They’ve been charged with things like undermining the regime, chanting illegal slogans and trying to change the constitution by illegal means (whatever that means).

I don’t know much about the individual cases of these prisoners. I have a hard time keeping up with what Jordanian law allows people to say and what it doesn’t. I am not an expert or an activist. Most of what I know about my country, I’ve experienced in classrooms, malls, coffeeshops and from behind my laptop. I’ll be the first to admit that there is a lot that I don’t know.

But here’s what I do know.

I know that there cannot be a government that truly represents its people as long as such a thing as “illegal slogans” exists. As long as people can go to jail for what they say or what they believe, then there is no freedom. It’s that simple.

Many people argue that some speech has to be suppressed to maintain security. In my personal opinion, that is bullshit. If I can’t be honest about my views without fearing imprisonment or police beatings, then how secure can I possibly be? When I lower my voice and look over my shoulder before discussing my political views in public, it’s because I don’t feel safe. Every time I read about a protest for a cause I support and then don’t go, it’s because I don’t feel safe. And why should I feel safe, when there are 18 people in jail right now for being bold enough to express themselves and to stand up for their views? These archaic and oppressive laws aren’t making us secure. They are taking away our basic human rights.

Jordan is my favorite place in the world. I love this country; I really do. But I probably don’t love it as much as the 18 prisoners of conscience who are currently serving time in our prisons. Unlike me, they had the courage to try to effect change. They had the courage to be honest and tell officials that there is room for improvement. What could be more patriotic than trying to make your country better? Whether or not you agree with their message or their methods, try to recognize that our best chance for progress relies on us listening to differing opinions. For that to happen, we need to live in an environment where we feel free to make our opinions known.

I am all for law and order, and when people infringe on other people’s rights, they should be punished. But there are people in our jails today for “illegal slogans.” That is wrong, plain and simple.

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