Friday, April 21, 2006

To the Gulag? Falun Gong Protestor Charged

I see from a Reuters news story that the protestor mentioned in my previous blog has indeed been charged with "intimidating and harassing a foreign official". I did a little research and found the applicable federal statute: 18 usc § 112
Subsection (b) states:
Whoever willfully--
(1) intimidates, coerces, threatens, or harasses a foreign official or an official guest or obstructs a foreign official in the performance of his duties;
(2) attempts to intimidate, coerce, threaten, or harass a foreign official or an official guest or obstruct a foreign official in the performance of his duties; or
(3) within the United States and within one hundred feet of any building or premises in whole or in part owned, used, or occupied for official business or for diplomatic, consular, or residential purposes by--
(A) a foreign government, including such use as a mission to an international organization;
(B) an international organization;
(C) a foreign official; or
(D) an official guest;
congregates with two or more other persons with intent to violate any other provision of this section;shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

Subsection (d) clarifies, however, that this section should not be construed to inhibit first amendment rights: "Nothing contained in this section shall be construed or applied so as to abridge the exercise of rights guaranteed under the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States."

According to the Reuter's story, the defendant stated: "President Hu, your days are numbered. President Bush, make him stop persecuting Falun Gong."

I did not witness this exchange. Those who have might wish to comment. But I see no inherent intimidation in telling someone "your days are numbered." It is, after all, a factually true statement. It is also a statement with religious signficance to some people. The Psalms include this admonition: "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." (Ps. 90:12) Recall also the story of the prophet Daniel (Daniel 5) and the strange writing on the wall of the King, which was loosely translated as telling him the days of his kingdom were numbered, and that he had been weighed in the balance and found lacking. These are not threatening words, but words suggesting judgment and justice are inescapable. They are uncomfortable words of a prophet.

As to whether she "harassed" or prevented the performance of an official duty, I think the quality of those terms must be considered in light of the nature of the speech. Some harassment, in the form of discomfort, should be tolerated.

As previously discussed, we may not like impolite people. We may wish to stop them from disrupting the words of those we came to hear, and we may wish that they direct their protests elsewhere. But throwing them in jail is another matter. Certainly President Bush must deal with protestors who "harass" him, and I have noticed that they are often lionized (e.g., Cindy Sheehan) instead of criticized for subjecting the President to "indignity" as decried in an op-ed I read. This could simply mean that we want our guests treated better than we expect our family to be treated. Or it may reveal something less flattering about the mainstream press. This story is worth following.

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