News Release

Inaugural Prosecutions: Criminalizing Protest and Journalism?

The New York Times just published the piece “Journalist Swept Up in Inauguration Day Arrests Faces Trial.” See from Camille Fassett of the Freedom of the Press Foundation: “Prosecuting journalists who covered Inauguration Day protests endangers press freedom and the First Amendment.”

SUE UDRY, CHIP GIBBONS, [in D.C.] chip at rightsanddissent.org, @bordc
Trials of activists and journalists surrounding protests during the inaugural in January begin this week.

Udry is executive director and Gibbons is legislative and policy counsel with the group Defending Rights and Dissent, which put out the recent statement: “Political Expression Is Not A Conspiracy.” The piece states: “The DOJ is turning political expression into conspiracy and free assembly into a crime.

“They are using a shocking legal theory: if you attend a march where other individuals engage in vandalism you are collectively liable for their acts and should face decades in prison. Ditto if you’re a journalist who is merely covering the event.” Gibbons recently wrote the piece “The Prosecution of Inauguration-Day Protesters Is a Threat to Dissent” for The Nation.

In a letter this week to U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu, Defending Rights and Dissent and a host of other groups wrote: “On January 20, 2017, some individuals allegedly engaged in property destruction during a protest. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), which was present at the time, did not immediately respond, but continued to follow the march. About 30 minutes into the march, the MPD engaged in a mass arrest of everyone in the vicinity of the protest. Well over 200 people in total were arrested, including several journalists attempting to cover the event. According to a report from the D.C. Office of Police Complaints (OPC), ‘it seems that proximity to the area where property damage occurred was a primary factor’ in the arrests. It was during this arrest [that] journalists [Aaron] Cantú and [Alexei] Wood were swept up, along with other journalists, legal observers, and protesters who had not damaged any property.”