Freedom of Expression

Press Release R120/11





Washington D.C. November 17, 2011. The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over the arrests and assaults on journalists and media workers during the coverage of the demonstrations of the Occupy Wall Street groups in Nashville and Oakland in recent weeks, and calls upon authorities to guarantee and protect the practice of journalism at public demonstrations.


According to the information received, at least three journalists have allegedly been assaulted since last October by police officers, and two others by participants in the aforementioned demonstrations. In addition, at least a dozen journalists have reportedly been placed under temporary arrest while performing their professional duties.


According to this information, journalist Dick Brennan of the Fox 5 station and his cameraman Roy Isen were reportedly assaulted on October 5 in New York City while covering the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. The Office of the Special Rapporteur also learned of alleged attacks against Scott Campbell, an independent journalist, on November 7 in Oakland. According to reports, police officers allegedly shot a rubber bullet at Campbell without any provocation or warning. Campbell disclosed the video that recorded the attack. Additionally, on October 28, reporter John Huddy of the Fox 5 station was allegedly assaulted by a protester while covering the Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New York, and on November 10, cameraman Randy Davis of station KGO was reportedly beaten severely by protesters, in Oakland, who prevented him from capturing images of a crime that had occurred minutes earlier. The assailants reportedly beat the journalist until other protesters intervened to protect him.


With respect to the arrests, according to the information available, journalist John Farley of station WNET/Thirteen blog MetroFocus, was detained for 8 hours on September 24 in New York while he was interviewing two youths who had allegedly been assaulted. According to reports, the police detained him because he did not have the press credentials given out by the police themselves. Additionally, Kristen Gwynne, a journalist from Alternet, was arrested on October 1 on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York after police closed the street and arrested everyone there. The same day, freelance journalist Natasha Lennard, who was reporting for the New York Times, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. The charged was apparently later dismissed in court because she had been acting in her professional capacity as a journalist.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur also learned of the arrest of Jonathan Meador, of the weekly Nashville Scene, on October 29 in Nashville, Tennessee, as he was recording video of the forced removal of the demonstrators from the "Occupy Nashville" group. According to the information received, Meador told authorities repeatedly that he was a journalist.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur was informed that during the night of November 15, 2011, at least seven journalists were arrested while covering the eviction of protesters from Zuccotti Park in New York, even though they had official credentials. The individuals in question were: Julie Walker of NPR; Patrick Hedlund and Paul Lomax of; Doug Higginbotham, freelance cameraman for TV New Zealand; Jared Malsin of The Local; Karen Matthews and Seth Wenig of the Associated Press, and Matthew Lysiak of the New York Daily News.


Some journalists reported having been assaulted or pushed by police seeking to obstruct the coverage of the eviction of protesters from the park. According to reports, the mayor of New York stated at a press conference that the media were prohibited from entering the protest site, in order to "keep the situation from worsening" and "to protect the media."


The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, and the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provide broad protection for the exercise of freedom of expression. The protection and guarantee of this right requires authorities to ensure the necessary conditions for journalists to be able to cover noteworthy events of interest to the public, such as the social protests mentioned in the preceding paragraphs. The disproportionate restrictions on access to the scene of the events, the arrests, and the criminal charges resulting from the performance of professional duties by reporters violate the right to freedom of expression. It is incumbent upon the authorities to reestablish guarantees and ensure full respect for the right to freedom of expression.


In addition, it is the obligation of the States to prevent and investigate reported acts of violence, punish the perpetrators, and assure that the victims receive adequate reparations, as established in the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR.