In an opinion piece about whether the courts can make terrorism rulings based on a person’s speech and thoughts, political scientist Andrew F. March asserts that prosecutors should not be able to have a man sentenced based solely on “independent advocacy of a terrorist group.” March sites a case from Boston, MA in which he had testified for the defense and defendant Tarek Mehanna was ultimately sentenced to 17 and a half years in prison. In the case that transpired for 35 days,  Mehanna was tried for, “material support for terrorism, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to kill in a foreign country.” The pronounced jihadi advocate was tried on specific pieces of evidence: An attempt to join jihadi training camp in Yemen, speeches that advocated jihadi activity (verbal, online, through messaging, and written), taking credit for authoring messages and text that promotes Jihad cause and his act of translating a text titled “39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad”, a text that elaborates on Muslim law but includes only some explanation of the Mujaheddin military forces. Ultimately, the defendant was found guilty because he exposed himself to these texts and, as a result, chose to advocate the religious and political causes.

As March explains, this case can very well be a central argument pertaining to the rights of freedom of expression in the first amendment.  He mainly plants this idea on the court’s judicial view that Mehanna was guilty because his thoughts and opinions were reformed by the texts he read, which may have influenced the content in his online messages. The associate professor of political science clearly opposes the court’s rulings that connect Mehanna’s personal habits with media with terrorism, and he is not alone. It is unclear whether the defendant will continue to appeal, but this trial opens an argument about free speech and expression within the United States.

Protesters wait outside the Massachusetts courthouse in support of Tarek Mehanna


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