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Six journalists face felony charges after covering a protest during Donald Trump's inauguration last week. They could face up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine if convicted.
The journalists arrested include freelancer Aaron Cantú; Vocativ senior producer Evan Engel; Jack Keller, producer for the online documentary “Story of America”; journalists Matt Hopard and Shay Horse; and RT America reporter Alex Rubinstein.
Their hearings will take place on either February or March according to The Guardian.
According to The Guardian The Committee to Protect Journalists will be taking matters up with the appropriate authorities to dismantle the situation by asking for the charges to be dropped:
“We call on authorities in Washington to drop these charges immediately.”
National President of the Society of Professional Journalists, Lynn Walsh, said in a statement:
“When protests happen, it seems there are sometimes issues distinguishing protesters from journalists. We ask law enforcement officers to please keep in mind that there are journalists at these events to cover them but not participate in them and to please not arrest a journalist that is just doing their job. It is also important that journalists keep press badges on them at all times. Try to keep them clearly visible at all times.”
RT's press office said that they will stand by their reporter Alex Rubinstein, and will “apply the full weight of its legal team” to get the charges dropped. The press office continued:
The arrest and subsequent felony rioting charge against our reporter, Alexander Rubinstein, simply for doing his job – covering inauguration protests in Washington DC – is an absolute outrage. Such acts represent an egregious violation of journalistic freedom, and are particularly disheartening to witness in the country that positions itself as the global champion of free press.
A spokesperson for Vocativ said in a statement:
The arrest, detainment and rioting charge against journalist Evan Engel who was covering the protests for Vocativ are an affront to the First Amendment and journalistic freedom. Vocativ will vigorously contest this unfounded and outrageous charge.
Each journalist is charged under Washington, D.C.’s law against rioting. One of the journalists covering the protest, Jack Keller, told The Guardian that he was detained for around 36 hours and arrested even though he told the officer that he was a journalist and was not participating as a protester:
“'The way we were treated was an absolute travesty,' said Keller, whose cellphone has been kept by the authorities. Keller’s editor, Annabel Park, said: 'It is a maddening and frustrating situation. These are people who were there observing and documenting.'”
Local police said in a statement, “members of the group [were] acting in a concerted effort engaged in acts of vandalism and several instances of destruction of property.”
Even without being charged, other journalists underwent harsh reactions from the police. A Washington Post reporter, Dalton Bennett, was thrown to the ground during the unrest.
Protesters set a limousine and several trash cans on fire, and more than 200 people were arrested while demonstrating.