At least 15 journalists have been unfairly arrested during the clashes between the police and protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, after a white officer shot dead a young unarmed black man, Michael Brown, on 9 August.
As rioting has gripped the town for almost two weeks, police have cracked down on the journalists covering the violence. The arbitrary detention of Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Ryan J. Reilly of the Huffington Post on 13 August appeared at first to be isolated instances as a result of the protests getting out of hand, but they were followed by the arrests of at least 13 more journalists, three of them German and one Turkish. All were handcuffed as a matter of routine. The freelance photojournalist Coulter Loeb, on assignment for the Cincinnati Herald, is the most recent to have been placed under arrest. He was held for six hours overnight on 19 August.
Journalists are also victims of police brutality. According to Al-Jazeera correspondent Ash-har Quraishi, tear gas was deliberately aimed at his crew.
“Reporters Without Borders calls for the punishment of the officers responsible for the arbitrary arrests of journalists covering the demonstrations,” said Camille Soulier, the head of the organization’s Americas desk.
“The arrest of journalists for reporting on the riots are in flagrant violation of International conventions as well as the U.S. constitution. An investigation must be carried out to identify the officers that deliberately assaulted and threatened those working for the media. There could be further wrongful arrests unless the authorities take decisive action against such shortcomings on the part of the police.”
A resolution passed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in March this year urges states to “pay particular attention to the safety of journalists and media workers covering peaceful protests.”
On 15 August, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Missouri police authorities signed an agreement that they “acknowledge and agree that the media and members of the public have the right to record public events without abridgement unless it obstructs the activities or threatens the safety of others, or physically interferes with the ability of law enforcement officers to perform their duties.”
Such an agreement may appear unnecessary in the land of the First Amendment, but it should act as a reminder to officers on the ground.
In addition, Reporters Without Borders and more than 40 other media organizations have signed a letter at the instigation of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press requesting the Missouri police authorities to allow journalist to do their work.
The journalists arrested in Ferguson are listed on the website of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
The United States is ranked 46th of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters without Borders press freedom index, 13 places below its position in the 2013 edition.