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Silence Is a Virtue, But Speech Is a Right

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By Megan Elisor

It goes without saying that the First Amendment is a newspaper's best friend. It is the reason that sections like Viewpoint can and do exist. In light of recent events, the First Amendment deserves a standing ovation.

On Jan. 23, it was made clear that freedom of speech is not valued everywhere. Magazine editor and Thai activist Somyot Pruksakasemsuk was sentenced to 10 years in prison for publishing two articles that supposedly defamed the monarchy.

Somyot, editor of the now-defunct Voice of Taksin magazine, used a pseudonym when the articles were published. In fact, the articles were works of fiction. However, criticizing the role of government is illegal in Thailand, and Somyot's criticism of the fictional character that represented the king was deemed unlawful.

The purpose of the magazine, which launched in 2009, was "to compile political news and anti-establishment articles from writers and contributors," according to the Associated Press' release on the subject. Somyot led the "Red Shirt" movement after Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted by the army coup in 2006.

"[Somyot's sentence] sends the wrong signals on freedom of expression in Thailand," United Nations high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay told the AP. "People exercising freedom of expression should not be punished in the first place."

As a Viewpoint writer, I sympathize with Somyot. He is backed by the hundreds of thousands of Red Shirts, but because Thailand has a monarchial government that doesn't share his opinions, the voice of these hundreds of thousands of people is ignored.

Consider the limitations we would have under a government that does not support freedom of speech:

First, this section of the newspaper probably would not exist. Use this page to dry your tears.

Second, Stephen Colbert would not have a report, nor would Jon Stewart have a daily show.

Third, we would have no Brickyard preachers or peaceful protests.

Finally, without a little bit of arguing in the comment section, Facebook statuses during election season just would not be the same.

Though many would argue that this issue is of no concern to the American people, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would disagree.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," he said in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.
We, as Americans, have the right to label the actions of our government "right" or "wrong." This ability, though seemingly minor, serves as the cornerstone of a democratic government. Feel free to disagree.