Friday, April 21, 2006

So much for the First Amendment

A Secret Service officer covers the mouth of Wenyi Wang, 47, as she is escorted from the camera stand after she disrupted the speech of Chinese President Hu Jintao, not pictured, during an arrival ceremony with President Bush on the South Lawn of the White House, Thursday, April 20, 2006, in Washington.

(Image and caption stolen from the Associated Press).

Wang has since been charged with disorderly conduct and - get this - "intimidating a foreign official". Her "intimidation"? Protesting China's appalling human rights record and its persecution of the Falun Gong movement. And for this, she is facing a fine and up to six months imprisonment. So much for the First Amendment...

But there are two other things which are really galling: first, that the Secret Service saw fit to physically silence her as she was being dragged off, so their important guest's sensitive ears wouldn't be sullied with criticism. And secondly, that Bush apologised to Hu. The only apology he should be giving is "sorry, we have freedom of speech in this country".


Like what Jonathan Hunt said to the Chinese Embassy in Wellington when Keith Locke hosted an exhibition in Parliament by an artist who is a Falung Gong practitioner. The Chinese Embassy flipped out and demanded that he get the exhibition taken down. Jonathan replied with a diplomatic extended middle finger :)

Posted by Anonymous : 4/21/2006 03:36:00 PM

Who saw the photo of Goff with Rumsfeld in the Dom post today? How on earth does he look himself in the mirror..?

Posted by Anonymous : 4/21/2006 04:35:00 PM

Yes. And George will appear the "freedomist" by asking for leniency on her sentence. He'll make her a house maid! Let this woman be heard! she says what the majority of the world is saying only with less pejorative thrust!

Posted by Mark Prime (tpm/Confession Zero) : 4/22/2006 01:22:00 AM

Is that an African-American woman's hand covering her mouth? Was this the freedom Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks fought for?

Posted by Will de Cleene : 4/22/2006 10:46:00 AM

The most egregious thing about this episode is that it comes just after Bush called on Hu Jintao to allow the Chinese people the 'freedom to speak freely'. Crooks and Liars has the video at

Posted by Anonymous : 4/22/2006 03:14:00 PM

To be honest, despite despising the Chinese repression of Falun Gong and everything else, and as much as we all despise the USA, I think that carting off anyone who interrupts a public speech is fine!

Theres a time and place for protest, and if we were all free to heckle overseas visitors making speeches, well, they probably wouldn't bother making them in public anymore.

Not quite sure they should be charged with 'intimidation' though...

Posted by Anonymous : 4/22/2006 04:58:00 PM

But it wasn't a public speech. It was an invite only. So it was a private event and the officials had the right to haul off anyone they wanted. My understanding (and correct me if I'm wrong) is that First Amendment rights don't apply to private events. If you go to private events you have to obey the rules of the eventholder even if they 'breach' constitutional rights.

Posted by Gooner : 4/22/2006 08:40:00 PM

Gooner: that would give cause for trespass, not for disorderly behaviour. And since when has crticising someone been "initimidation"?

In democracies, visiting dignitaries have to run the gauntlet of public opinion. That's certainly what happens here. I'd also add that the idea that the centre of executive power in the US is private property is grossly undemocratic. That should be a place where people are guaranteed the chance to have their say (again, like the forecourt of Parliament here, where the Speaker got spanked by the courts for trying to prevent people from protesting there)

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/23/2006 01:10:00 AM

That's an interesting issue about private events on public property. Maybe for another day.

Posted by Gooner : 4/23/2006 10:23:00 PM

The problem with this whole episode is not simply the fact that a woman was arrested for protesting, but that her treatment, and the reaction to it, both by the media and especially the authorities (according to yesterday's SST, she has been charged with intimidation), given the fact that Bush had only moments before called on Hu to allow the Chinese people to speak freely and have freedom of religion, is an example of doublethink that Orwell would be proud of. A few points need to be noted. Firstly, I would argue that it was a public event since it was broadcast live not only across America, but around the world as well. If it was meant to be a truly private event then why wasn't it held behind closed doors? If one was to be charitable, it could be called a photo-op, if one was being uncharitable, it could be called propaganda. It was meant to be seen, especially in China. Secondly regardless of whether it was a public or private event, the first amendment makes no distinction between private and public speech, all speech is guaranteed, here is the text in full: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Even the law relating to intimidation that Idiot links to above contains the following clause: "Nothing contained in this section shall be construed or applied so as to abridge the exercise or rights guaranteed under the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States". However, I believe that the prosecution of Wang will be successful for two reasons: the first being that the mere fact of protesting will be interpreted as harassment (if this happens then it is bullshit since all protest is harrassment by its very nature to some degree or other) and secondly because she yelled "Hu, your days are numbered" which can be construed as a threat regardless of how she may have intended it, and both of these would put her in breach of the intimidation law under subsection b clause 2 which states applies to people "who attempt(s) to intimidate, coerce, threaten, or harass a foreign official or an official guest or obstruct a foreign official in the performance of his duties". If she hadn't made that statement, it would be much harder to prosecute her because of first amendment protection. In prosecuting her, Bush is attempting to have his cake and eat it. On the one hand, he is calling on Hu to allow the freedom of speech and religion (which is more than our government has done) and that is to be commended. On the other hand the Attorney General completely subverts his stand by prosecuting Wang for exercising that same freedom of speech by calling out to Hu to allow freedom of religion,and Bush gives tacit approval to that by not defending her right to speak. He could direct the Attorney General not to prosecute but he will not. She is being prosecuted for an act of speech, not for trespass or disorderly behaviour. This is gross hypocrisy from a man calling for freedom of speech who does not defend a US resident for exercising that same right and that is the issue here. By apologising he's not so much kissing Hu's arse as massaging Hu's buttocks with his tonsils and in so doing betrays the principles on which his country was founded and for which he claims to stand for. That's what makes this episode so appaling.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/24/2006 12:37:00 PM

The Secret Service actions were no more or less offensive than those of the NZ Police a few years ago, when they screened out protests in NZ during a visit by a Chinese official. From memory the Police apologised later, but that (the protest)was in a public place.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/25/2006 11:38:00 PM