Journalists arrested at U.S. ‘School of the Americas’ protest

New York, November 23, 2010–Two journalists from the Moscow-based broadcast outlet Russia Today were arrested on November 20 while covering a protest against the U.S. military training center formerly known as the “School of the Americas” at Fort Benning, Georgia. On-air correspondent Kaelyn Forde and cameraman Jon Conway, both of whom are U.S. citizens, were charged with unlawful assembly, demonstrating without a permit, and failing to obey police orders, according to The Associated Press. They were both held for 29 hours before each was released on a US$1,300 bond.

“Journalists must be able to cover public demonstrations,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Police in Columbus, Georgia, should carry out an internal investigation into this incident and in the future should implement procedures to ensure that journalists are able to do their jobs without interference.”

In a video that was later posted on YouTube, officers can be seen arresting Kaelyn Forde. She repeatedly apologized to officers, said she moved when asked, and asked why she was being arrested as two officers forced her hands behind her back and put on plastic wrist cuffs. Forde later appeared on Russia Today saying she was treated aggressively by police and showed bruises on her arms from what she said was rough handling. The YouTube video shows Forde being compliant as she persisted in asking officers why she was being arrested.

The two journalists were arrested with a group of protesters as they were leaving the demonstration site, Deputy Police Chief Charles Rowe of the Columbus police department told CPJ. All the arrested individuals were ordered to disperse, and they did not disperse, said Rowe.

The Russia Today television crew was covering a nonviolent demonstration outside Fort Benning, which includes the U.S. military training center previously called the School of the Americas and now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Protesters have gathered annually over the past 20 years to demonstrate against the U.S. military training facility since School of the Americas graduates from El Salvador were implicated in the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests. Three of the murdered Jesuits were prolific writers and they were later counted among CPJ’s list of journalists killed in 1989.