Yesterday’s post about Saudi Arabia resulted in an unexpected response: “be careful writing about Saudi Arabia” was the ominous message. I write – unexpected – because I’m used to being threatened all the time, especially when writing about El Paso politics and the drug trade. My Twitter account has been referred to the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) Twitter handle once or twice. My Twitter advertising account was also suspended yesterday. More on that later. I’ve also received my share of legal threats over the years. I usually know when I’ll get some pushback from my posts as I write them, but my Saudi Arabia post didn’t even flicker on my pushback radar.
Yet, there it was, “be careful about writing about Saudi Arabia.”
The writer who sent me the warning was referring to my penchant for traveling to other countries. I like to visit other places. I was being warned that I could be in deep trouble if I visit Saudi Arabia. I’m unlikely to visit Saudi Arabia again because of my experience there and what I know about the country makes me want to stay away.
But as I digested the warning I thought about my travels to other countries.
Many readers have read the reports about Americans being detained in North Korea or other tyrannical countries. Most everyone is aware about the dangers journalists face in some countries. China and North Korea are countries I’m careful about because of their history of abusive extraterritorial applications of their laws. Extraterritorial application of law is when a country prosecutes someone who is not a citizen for a crime that is not a crime in the individual’s home country. For example, in some countries it is illegal to say bad things about the government.
In 2011, an American was arrested for making fun of the Thai king. Joe W. Gordon also known as Lerpong Wichaicommart was arrested as he was visiting Thailand. Gordon was accused of disseminating “insults” through his blog. Gordon posted while living in the United States and his posts are legal in America. Joe Gordon was sentenced to two and half years in prison but was released under a royal pardon in 2012.
It was his blog posts, which are perfectly legal in America, that got him sent to prison.
Unfortunately, posting critiques of governments and national policies can lead to arrests by countries even though the “crime” wasn’t committed in the country.
The Israeli government is currently holding U.S. citizen Lara Alqasem.
The 22-year-old Florida native was detained at the Ben-Gurion airport last week. She was on her way to study at a Hebrew University. Alqasem was barred from entering Israel because she is accused of supporting the boycott of Israel.
The 2017 law prohibits allowing anyone from entering Israel if they have supported any boycott of Israel. Normally, Israel immediately deports anyone it does not allow into the country.
However, Lara Alqasem appealed her deportation. Two courts have ruled that Alqasem should not be allowed entry into the country because she previously belonged to Students for Justice in Palestine. She was president of her university’s chapter. The Israeli Supreme Court is reviewing her case.
China, North Korea, Thailand or Israel are not the only countries that apply extraterritorial prosecutions of foreigners not living in their countries. The United States and Spain have also prosecuted people in other countries for crimes not criminal in their countries.
In 2001, the United States arrested Dmitry Sklyarov, a Russian citizen, in Las Vegas for violating the copyright of Adobe Systems. Sklyarov wrote a program that allowed the circumvention of the copy protection in Adobe’s eBook products. What Dmitry Sklyarov was accused of was legal in his country of citizenship, Russia and where he lived. He was in Las Vegas delivering a speech at a conference and no criminal activity was levied against him while he was visiting the United States.
Ultimately, the charges against him were dropped and he returned to Russia about six months later.
These cases demonstrate that what may be legal in the country you live in, or the country of one’s citizenship does not mean that someone can’t be prosecuted for a crime in another country.
This is especially true of freedom of speech.
As a blogger, I avail myself of the right to freedom of speech.
But because the Internet knows no borders, my commentary may create problems for me in other countries. For the most part, prosecutions for extraterritorial transgressions happen when someone puts themselves under the authority of that government by traveling to that country.
However, there are numerous examples of countries taking extrajudicial prosecutions to an extreme.
Saudi Arabia is accused of the sending a team to Turkey to kidnap, interrogate, torture and kill someone.
In 1985, Dr. Humberto Alvarez-Machain, a Mexican citizen, was forcefully kidnapped and brought to the United States to face trial for his part in the killing of DEA agent Enrique Camarena. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in United States vs. Alavarez-Machain that the United States can kidnap individuals in other countries and bring them to trial in America.
I’m not concerned about Saudi Arabia and my post, but the warning made me consider the implications of voicing an opinion on the Internet and what my two decades of blogging may cause me when I travel.
My Twitter Advertising Suspension
Apparently criticizing Saudi Arabia is not permissible on Twitter either.
I posted a reminder on Twitter about how 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi citizens.
Soon after that I asked a question about being certified to run political advertisements on Twitter. My Twitter advertising account was suspended soon after. The reason? According to the email, my account contains inappropriate content. I have asked numerous times what the violating content is, and the responses have been that the suspension stands until I remove the offensive content. The problem is that my post yesterday was the only post I have made in days and therefore I do not see how it violates their policies.
If it is my Saudi Arabia post, than America has a more serious problem than any of us thought. I will update you in the following days as I continue through the Twitter algorithmic process.