Freedom of speech abroad

“You have the right to free speech as long as you’re not dumb enough to actually try it.” — The Clash. 

Free speech, along with freedom of the press, the right to peacefully assemble and petition the government, is the first amendment granted to U.S. citizens. And The Signal tried it when releasing the Urbanite magazine. Due to explicit content, the school wasn’t allowed to distribute the magazine, and according to students, first amendment rights were violated and students had a say about it. 

“Things that really exist should be read,” foreign exchange student Kenza Haddadi said. “No matter how bad and ugly the truth is, it has to be told by the media. That’s their job and their right.” 

Haddadi has witnessed that America has a much broader definition of the word “freedom” than in her home country of France. In France, it’s acceptable to write, think and say whatever you want, but with limitations. 

“Because of certain laws we have that limit freedom of speech, groups like the KKK or propaganda for Nazism could never exist in France like it can here,” she said. 

Radical ideological positions, whether far left or far right, may not be acceptable or tolerated in France, but since coming to America, Haddadi has gained a new understanding about limitations on her freedoms. Her time in America has led her to witness and even be a part of women using their first amendment right to protest HB481, also known as the Heartbeat Bill. 

“If this type of protest happened in France, I’d have the attitude of ‘what they’re saying is wrong, I don’t agree, or it goes against my freedom, so they should stop talking,’ but because of the freedom to say things more freely here, I’ve become so much more tolerant and less judgmental and have an attitude of ‘they have the right to think that way,’” she said. “I’m more open to things I don’t agree with/don’t like now because I’ve met so many diverse people in this country who speak more openly about their beliefs.” 

As for graduate student Jay Zhengnan Yuan, who moved to the U.S. from China at the height of the 2016 election, he’s seen a great deal of people freely expressing their opinions. 

“In China, you could never use or even have social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook to say bad things about the president. It’s a communist country, so the internet is blocked and restricted to what can be said,” he said. 

As far as what can be said or published by the media here, Yuan has his opinions on the removal of the Urbanite. 

“I can understand as a president or upper faculty member of the school, I wouldn’t love for those things to be said, but it’s reality though and we should identify it,” he said. “We can learn from the media — that’s why we have it. This article really brought out the fact that tuition for college is unaffordable these days and this is the reality of what kids are doing.” 

Georgia State student Laurie Chung has also learned a thing or two through the media. 

“Georgia State is like the number one school with sugar babies. It’s true and has already been in the news,” she said. “It’s because of the freedom to be able to publish and say what’s actually going on that we can make a change, so let’s make college cheaper already.” 

Chung, whose family comes from South Korea, has similar ideas of freedom of speech and press. 

“It’s not overly strict there, but here in the United States, people are allowed to talk about their support openly for the Confederate monuments, whereas in South Korea, if you were to openly support North Korea and be like, ‘Go, Kim Jong Un,’ then that can be very looked down upon and even against what the government believes goes,” she said. 

Georgia State student Minela Sejdin, who comes from Bosnia, also has limitations on what can be supported, published, or said in her home country. 

“Journalists in Bosnia face harassment and threats as well as political pressure when publishing and reporting. Also minorities living there like Jews, Roma and women are super underrepresented and experience limitations in what they can say despite the European Courts of Human Rights,” she said. 

As far as women experiencing problems regarding freedom of speech, places like Iran have some of the strictest limitations.

Student Gia Frowns took a trip to Iran this summer to visit her family, only to discover how different her freedoms as a U.S. citizen look compared to women in the Middle East. 

In several countries in the Middle East, that right isn’t granted. Coming back from the summer, Frowns realizes how lucky she is to be able to speak out her beliefs and have her own political opinions. 

“Iran has several laws against freedom of speech because it’s a theocracy run by corrupt men,” Frowns said. “Over there, you have to be very cautious about what you do and say on social media and in public; you could be imprisoned and every time I’ve visited, I’m hyper aware of it.” 

Despite prison being likely for people who speak out against the government, Iranians still do not shy away from voicing their beliefs. Frowns knows Iranians are very opinionated and passionate people, especially women. 

“Women protest there just like they do here for their freedoms,” she said. “It’s dangerous, but it’s important to them to receive the same rights as men. Women are the givers of life and the backbone to every man on earth, so giving them the right to speak freely is the least the world can do.”

Just like women protesting the streets of Atlanta, women are still fighting the the system even 7,000 miles away. 

“Our freedoms are important for our self-power. If we speak powerfully and have the right to, people will learn from us and maybe decide to give what we’re saying a listen and consideration,” Frowns said.