Critics face sanctions

In Uzbekistan, a documentary filmmaker was convicted of photographing unflattering examples of Uzbek people — sober expressions, bowed heads, raggedly dressed children, old beggars. During the American Depression, Dorothea Lange did the same and was praised for the social content of her work. Uzbek artists are afraid to do work now problematic to the government, which prefers to see rosy portrayals of its geography and people. As a result, this artist’s work received the inevitable widespread interest, elsewhere — the Mapplethorpe effect.

Twelve pages later, the Times’s  Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak wrote about a civil rights lawyer’s challenge to a federal law that seems to ban his organization’s humanitarian efforts on behalf of a militant Kurdish group. The U.S. Patriot Act prohibits aid to terrorists groups. The lawyer here proposes to seek peaceful, non-violent solutions to conflicts, and believes that his efforts should be protected by the First Amendment.

So does the expert from the LSU Hurricane Center who lost his job for criticizing the Corps of Engineers for its mistakes that caused breaches in the hurricane protections system leading to Katrina deaths and destruction. Fearing cuts in federal aid to the university, the university did not renew his contract. Charging that this action was improper retaliation, the critic argues his dismissal violates his First Amendment rights to free speech.

This recurring universal battle between freedom and government control is historic, and worldwide, as these three instances demonstrate. The challengers are hurt by the sanctions, but I predict they will prevail on the issues their cases represent. Stay tuned. But be warned — whistleblowers and good Samaritans and social critics walk a precarious path.

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