Journalist Cyberstung

In 1996, Mirken joined an ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation suit against a Georgia statute that aimed to outlaw handles, or aliases. The suit argued that without anonymity, gay kids and a host of others "would fear using the Internet to seek information and support." A week after Mirken and company won that suit in June 1997, the Supreme Court struck down the Communications Decency Act, passed by Congress to protect minors from online indecency.

But the zealousness of Internet policing continues, and it's resulted in the arrest of at least one other journalist. Larry Matthews, a veteran radio freelancer, was indicted in Maryland in July 1997 for trafficking in child porn. Matthews was working for National Public Radio, and in 1995 had broadcast a three-part series on the electronic child-porn trade on a Washington radio station. He admits using his Mac to trade images, but says he did so to write his story.

Last July, however, a U.S. District judge ruled that Matthews's profession wasn't a defense: "The law," declared Judge Alexander Williams Jr., "is clear that a press pass is not a license to break the law." Days later, Matthews pled guilty to two child-porn charges, in order, he has said, to hasten an appeal on First Amendment grounds. "We have the same defense," said Matthews's lawyer. "Larry was acting as a journalist."

But in Mirken's case, says his attorney, "Bruce didn't break any law at all." Still, unlike Matthews, whose story was covered by The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and others—and whose case was taken up by civil liberties and journalists' groups—Mirken has received only a few small notices in the gay press.

"It's been like walking into a parallel universe where everything you say is turned against you in some warped way," says Merkin. But he vows to continue to report on gay kids, "because, I guess, I still have unpleasant memories of my own high school years. I've written about three kids who've ended up dead by their own hand. So I won't let it stop me. If nothing else I am stubborn as hell."

Free at Last?

The announcement by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi that his government would disassociate itself from the decade-old bounty on Salman Rushdie's head was among last week's most welcome pieces of news. The announcement provided an apt occasion to shine a light on the fight against murderous censorship in Iran and across the world. But the American media turned the spotlight away.

We did not hear, for example, about the extraordinary turn Taslima Nasrin's life took last week. Nasrin is the feminist Bangladeshi author who has weathered death threats and lived in European exile since 1994, when her government ordered her arrest for blaspheming Islam. She had been quoted as saying the Koran should be rewritten, comments she has denied making. Last week Nasrin returned to Bangladesh to be with her ailing mother. Hundreds paraded through the streets of Dhaka calling for her hanging.

And just days before Iran's president declared the campaign against Rushdie "completely finished," two journalists with the Islamic Republic News Agency, Mohammed Reza Sadeq and Ali Reza Khosravi, were arrested by Iranian authorities. They joined Mahmoud Shamsolvaezin and Hamid Reza Jalaipur, the editor and publisher of the daily Tous, in prison. Two weeks ago the liberal paper was shut down, and this weekend an Iranian exile told the Voice that Shamsolvaezin and Jalaipur may be charged under a law that accuses them of "enmity with God." Conviction could mean death.

Diana Ayton-Shenker of the PEN American Center says that following the Iranian government's statements on Rushdie, "international pressure is as necessary as ever." Indeed, in response to the latest pronouncements, hardliners in the Iranian government and press pushed for continuing vigilance, and two papers insisted that the death sentence against Rushdie would be carried out.

What would it take to hold big media's attention? Perhaps this: In late March, Reza Ghanilau of the Fakour weekly in Iran was fined a million rials and banned from working for six months. His crime? Publishing front-page photos of Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, et al. Now there's a crusade American journalists can get behind.

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