News

November 24, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Journalists arrested while covering “School of the Americas” protest


Reporters Without Borders condemns the arrests of Russia Today America correspondent Kaelyn Forde and her cameraman Jonathan Conway while covering protests near the Fort Benning military base in Georgia on 22 November. KNGU Local community radio intern Cecelia Kluding was also arrested despite having press credentials. The press freedom organization calls on the Columbus police department to drop all charges against them. See the video
Here is Kaelyn Forde’s account of what happened: “We were covering the demonstration and vigil outside of Fort Benning, where the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation/School of the Americas, is located. We were not protesting and we were wearing our press credentials. We had also interviewed the police captain in the morning, clearly identifying ourselves as members of the media. When the protest ended, we began filming the activists leaving the permitted protest zone and filing single-file onto the sidewalk. We were asked by the police to move from the street onto the sidewalk, which we did. My observation was that the protesters also followed the police’s instructions to exit single-file along the sidewalk. But we continued to film as some of those who were walking by were getting arrested. Then the police asked us to go to the sidewalk to film. At this point, we were standing in the parking lot of a gas station. We also complied and moved to the sidewalk. My cameraman was still filming as I was walking away, my back toward the police, when I felt a hand grabbing me from behind. That is when I was arrested. My cameraman filmed my arrest and then was arrested himself a few minutes later. When we got into a city bus the police were using to transport arrestees, we asked the police officers what the charges were against us. None of them wanted to answer us, though we repeatedly asked. Finally, one police officer said: “No charge. The ride is free," and began laughing. We were fingerprinted, photographed, and our personal belongings were taken from us, including our cameras, tapes and equipment. We were put in a holding cell with other protesters. One of the women there needed her medication and the police ignored it, despite her multiple requests. She almost had a seizure on the floor. Another woman suffered an asthma attack. She had her hands around her neck and was on the floor, unable to breathe. Myself and another reporter asked for her inhaler to be returned to her. She didn’t receive it until at least 11 hours later. Our bail was set 10 times higher than normal bail for Muscogee County Jail; my bail was $4,100 dollars, as opposed to the typical $200 to $300 for misdemeanor charges. We were told we would be spending the night in jail. We were issued mattresses, cups, a towel and put in with the general inmate population. Then, we were told that we would be able to speak to a lawyer before the arraignment began. I showed my lawyer my press credentials, and he presented them to the judge. The three charges filed against me were: -unlawful assembly (a state charge) -demonstrating without permit (a city ordinance violation) -failure to disperse (a city ordinance violation) This was pretty incredible. During the arraignment, we were just taken in and out one by one, for only about a minute and thirty seconds at a time. I was asked to leave the room and was not permitted to hear the statement the police made against me. I could not speak or defend myself during the arraignment and I was not even allowed to talk to my lawyer since a police officers stood right between us. It took the judges three hours and a half to watch the videos which were taken of my arrest by police, bystanders and another journalist. Though the video proved I was innocent and I was clearly displaying my press credentials, I, along with all of the other journalists and activists, was found guilty of every charge. There was no distinction made between members of the press and activists. I was told the only way to leave the jail was to accept the guilty verdict and pay a $290 fine per charge for violating city ordinance. So did my cameraman, Jonathan Conway. We were also released on $1,000 bail for the state charge of “unlawful assembly,” which is still pending. We were not protesters. We repeatedly identified ourselves as members of the press, exercising our First Amendment rights. We were still arrested for protesting. Another 17 year-old-girl, who was doing an internship with a community radio station, was also arrested and found guilty of demonstrating without a permit, despite her credentials. The judge also announced that certain defendants were banned from the city of Columbus for 18 months. I thought that this would never happen in my country, and that the 1st Amendment protects us. But the only thing our lawyers could negotiate was jail time, and we were forced to accept a guilty verdict without any sort of due process whatsoever. As journalists, our freedoms were under attack.”