Legal Action

In China

Chinese government uses legal punishment to silence dissenders. David Volodzko, national editor for The Korea JoongAng Daily, reported that “in 2005, China had 32 journalists arrested,” and “ten years later, that figure was up 65 percent” (“Is Free Speech in China Really Getting Better?” par. 5). Looking at these statistics, it is clear to see why the Committee to Protect Journalists deemed China the “worst jailer of the press” (Omari par. 1).

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese do not stop at their journalists. They also arrest common people for writing about their opinions without approval from the state. In January 2003, two men were sentenced to nine and seven years in prison for “unlawful operation of a business” (“Freedom of Expression in China” par. 14). Here is the tragic reality: they were caught publishing love poems without the authorities’ permission. Their citizens have limited access to the news, and their journalists have the constant threat of punishment looming over them. This is not a safe environment for citizens to express their opinions.

In America

In some cases, exercising free speech in the U.S. does not come without opposition. The publication of classified information creates tension between the First Amendment and the Espionage Act. Basically, the Legal Information Institute states the Espionage Act is the addition that:

“Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes, transmits, or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes, or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States or for the benefit of any foreign government to the detriment of the United States any classified information… shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”

“18 U.S. Code and 798 – Disclosure of Classified Information” par. 1

In other words, anyone who wittingly makes classified information available to anyone who is unauthorized for such knowledge will be fined or jailed for up to ten years. America’s Future Foundation writer Ken Silva explains that “attorneys for the largest publications in the country routinely advise editors that articles containing classified information must be vetted by the U.S. government” (“Can Journalists Go To Jail For Printing Classified Information?” par. 4).

This seems to contradict the First Amendment, thus rendering the act unconstitutional. After all, if one must withhold information, how can their speech be considered free? One might argue that this limitation hinders free speech. The Espionage Act can be used to prosecute the media for revealing government secrets. Many argue that this is contradictory to the First Amendment as well (Silva par. 10). We will discuss more on that in our next post.

Women protesting the Espionage Act near the White House. Courtesy of Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

Volodzko, David. “Is Free Speech in China Really Getting Better?” The Diplomat. The Diplomat, 23 Sept. 2016. Web. http://thediplomat.com/2016/09/is-free-speech-in-china-really-getting-better/

Omari, Shazdeh. “China Is World’s Worst Jailer of the Press; Global Tally Second Worst on Record.” Committee to Protect Journalists. CPJ, 17 Dec. 2014. Web. https://www.cpj.org/reports/2014/12/journalists-in-prison-china-is-worlds-worst-jailer.php

“Freedom of Expression in China: A Privilege, Not a Right.” Congressional-Executive Commission on China. N.p., n.d. Web. https://www.cecc.gov/freedom-of-expression-in-china-a-privilege-not-a-right

“18 U.S. Code and 798 – Disclosure of Classified Information.” Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School, n.d. Web. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/798

Silva, Ken. “Can Journalists Go To Jail For Printing Classified Information?” America’s Future Foundation. AFF, n.d. Web. http://americasfuture.org/can-journalists-go-to-jail-for-printing-classified-information/

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