Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) is an international organization dedicated to protecting the rights of reporters and promoting freedom of speech. In 2005, Reporters Without Borders won the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded annually by the European Parliament. The organization was founded based on the premise outlined in Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which asserts that people everywhere have "the right to freedom of opinion and expression.” When Reporters Without Borders sees an injustice, it investigates and, if warranted, sends letters of protest.
I’m honored to report to you that Reporters Without Borders has reviewed The True BU situation and has opted to put its considerable reputation behind me. A copy of the letter can be found in the documents section (on the right), but here’s the text of the letter of protest that they sent to Butler.
Dear President Fong,
Reporters Without Borders, an international organization defending freedom of the press and free speech worldwide, is concerned about the treatment of Butler University junior Jess Zimmerman. In January 2009, the Butler administration sued him after he published criticism and opinion pieces against your administration in an anonymous blog. It was the first time in the United States that a student was sued by his university for online content and our organization is quite worried regarding the consequences this decision may have on online free speech.
Reporters Without Borders thinks the right to speak freely includes the right to speak anonymously and defend it as long as long as no racial hatred,insult or call for violence is published. Moreover, back in 2004, in Polito v. AOL Time Warner, Inc., 78 Pa. D. & C.4th 328 (2004), the Supreme Court held the right to speak anonymously on the Internet was protected by the First Amendment, "but, if an anonymous Internet speaker engages in tortious or criminal conduct, the protection of the right to communicate anonymously must be balanced against the need to assure that those persons who choose to abuse the opportunities presented by this medium can be made to answer for such transgressions". We are not aware that Jess’ conduct was tortious or criminal and ask you to explain your action against him.
Reporters Without Borders is aware the University decided to dismiss the case and would continue with a formal disciplinay procedure against Jess Zimmerman. Instead, charging him with the same accusations it did in the lawsuit although his blog is no longer anonymous.
We are of course cognizant that a University such as Butler has to satisfy a high level of excellence. Criticisms have to be handled with care. However, our organization fears this decision is a way to intimidate and silence your student.
We urge you to take action on this issue, without harming the reputation of Butler University, the career of Jess Zimmerman or online free speech, by withdrawing the charges against him.
We trust you will live up to our expectations.
Clothilde Le Coz
Reporters Without Borders USA.
Butler’s abbreviated response came from the public relations department and, according to Clothilde Le Coz, said “The University never elected to take the legal steps to replace ‘John Doe’s’ name with Mr. Zimmerman in the complaint. No suit was ever brought against Mr. Zimmerman. In fact, Butler’s newspaper, The Butler Collegian, reported that ‘Zimmerman said he agrees that he technically was not sued, although he is the face behind ‘”John Doe."’”
In light of Butler’s refusal to address the “fear” raised by Reporters Without Borders that Butler’s “decision is a way to intimidate and silence your student,” and because Butler has neither dropped the charges against me nor explained why they have opted not to do so, Reporters Without Borders has encouraged me to publicize their letter in any way that I think will be helpful. My first step is to share it with all of you.
Increasingly, the administration of Butler University is becoming more and more isolated as this case drags on. Experts from around the world who have actually read the materials I wrote and who have actually read the incredible accusations Butler administrators and lawyers have made have all reached the same decision: there was nothing wrong with The True BU. Isn’t it time for Butler to recognize that the opinions of experts should count for something?