Four arrested covering protest at GOP convention

New York, September 2, 2008—A camera crew, broadcast host, and photographer were arrested Monday while covering protests at the Republican National Convention in St Paul, Minn. Police in downtown St. Paul swept up the journalists while arresting more than 250 other people during an unruly end to an otherwise peaceful anti-war protest, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. All three were later released.

“I held up my press pass as I was filming,” said one of those arrested, Nicole Salazar, a producer and videographer for the nationally syndicated radio and television program, “Democracy Now!” Salazar suffered a bloody nose after being pushed by officers into a parked car, she told CPJ. Sound technician Sharif Abdel Kouddous was arrested as he was coming to her side and holding up a press pass, he told CPJ.

“Democracy Now!” host Amy Goodman was arrested after she approached a line of police to inquire about the status of her arrested colleagues. Her arrest was captured on film.

Associated Press photographer Matt Rourke was also arrested during the protests. “Covering news is a constitutionally protected activity, and covering a riot is part of that coverage,” the news agency quoted David Ake, an AP assistant bureau chief in Washington, as saying.

“We are concerned that police in St. Paul prevented journalists from covering a breaking story,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “All four journalists were clearly there to do their jobs. We urge authorities to drop any pending charges and allow journalists to continue with their work.”

Police arrested 286 people during Monday’s event, AP reported. An estimated 10,000 people took part in a peaceful anti-war march, AP said, but small groups broke windows, slashed tires, and harassed delegates. The journalists were arrested as police were attempting to coral protestors into a parking lot in order to make arrests, Kouddous told CPJ.

An agent with the U.S. Secret Service, which is overseeing security for the Republican National Convention, later confiscated Kouddous’ daily press pass for the convention center, the journalist told CPJ. The same agent confiscated Goodman’s press pass, he said. Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said he could not immediately respond to the report that an agent had confiscated convention passes.

No charges were filed against AP photographer Matt Rourke, the news agency reported, citing Phil Carruthers, director of the prosecution division of the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office. Felony riot charges were pending against “Democracy Now!” journalists Kouddous and Salazar, while Goodman was charged with obstruction, according to a statement from “Democracy Now!” Janet Hafner, a spokeswoman for the Ramsey prosecutor, said she could not immediately confirm the status of the charges today.