The Power (or lack thereof) of Free Speech

The following is a guest post that I wrote for another website.

I was asked to write a something for the March 18 Movement blog. The March 18 movement is held in remembrance and honour of Omid Reza Mirsayafi, the first blogger to die in prison. The direct link to the blog post is here and here’s a link to the home page of the March 18 Movement.

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr. Seuss

After three years of being a regular blogger, I was flabbergasted when I received a comment on one of my posts that threatened to sue me for an exorbitant amount of money, dangled the prospect of jail over my head and slyly hinted at taking my passport away so as to prevent me from travelling to the UK for my education.

After a whole host of events too tedious to describe, I was forced by a multitude of circumstances to pull down the post permanently from my blog. I even had to go so far as to change my moniker on that blog (wherein I was already writing under a pseudonym) because the threats – although thankfully by this time completely hollow – kept coming. As my original pseudonym was alarmingly close to my real name, it had to go.

The question begs to be asked… what had I done that was so reprehensible?

In a wrap of an event, I dared say I did not like a person’s choice of apparel.

Clichéd perhaps, but I whole-heartedly abide by the quote found in the book The Friends of Voltaire (1906), written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall under the pseudonym S.G. Tallentyre: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Freedom of speech, to me, signifies being able to say what you think without the fear of repercussions. It means allowing people to opine unreservedly without them indulging in morbid thoughts of what can befall them if they do so. Society seems to be moving back to Tudor times when it was wholly possible to have your head lopped off for not agreeing with the king. That scares me.

While I am a supporter of preventing the spread of abject lies, why should bloggers be penalized for being truthful and accurate? I firmly believe that to be a trusted blogger, you cannot lie in your posts. Because of the two-way and immediate conversation available to bloggers and their readers, there lies the possibility of a near-immediate response to any mistakes made in the blog post.

Was I a coward for removing the post from my blog? Perhaps. Should I have fought for the right to say what I thought, as it harmed no one and was most definitely not defamatory? Many might think so. Do I think twice before posting something on a blog now? Yes, however harmless I think it might be.

The most important question, in my opinion, remains: will I ever put that blog post online again? Yes. But only when I hold the power in my hands. Because sadly, right now it’s all about who has the power to exercise free speech as opposed to who has the right to.

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