Berlin, May 12, 2023—British authorities should drop any criminal investigation into journalist Rich Felgate and ensure that members of the press can cover protests without fear of arrest, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On May 6, police arrested Felgate, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, while he covered an environmental protest held during King Charles III’s coronation, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ.
Authorities held him for about 18 hours on suspicion of “conspiracy to cause a public nuisance,” and released him on bail pending investigation. Felgate told CPJ he is required to report back to police on August 4.
Felgate is being investigated under Section 78 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, adopted in 2022, which human rights groups have criticized for granting police vague and undefined powers to restrict protests. Convictions under the act can carry up to 10 years in prison.
“British authorities should immediately drop their criminal investigation into journalist Rich Felgate and ensure that members of the press do not face legal harassment over their reporting,” said Attila Mong, CPJ’s Europe representative. “Covering demonstrations is clearly in the public interest, and authorities should stop pursuing journalists simply for doing their jobs. Journalists deserve police officers’ protection during protests, rather than their harassment.”
In a video Felgate posted to Twitter, police are seen arresting him while he repeatedly identifies himself as a member of the press. He was wearing press insignia and carrying his press pass at the time, he told CPJ. During his arrest, police handcuffed him and tore off the lanyard that showed his media credential.
While in detention at a police station, officers questioned Felgate in the presence of a lawyer about his work and his alleged connections to the environmental protesters, members of the group Just Stop Oil.
“I’m not a protester with Just Stop Oil, I’ve never been involved [in] their protests but I’ve been around a lot of things they’ve done over the past year for the purposes of making a documentary,” he said.
In a statement emailed to CPJ, the London Metropolitan Police said that six people had been arrested at that protest, including a journalist who was allegedly “observed as part of” a group suspected of intending to disrupt the coronation.
The statement acknowledged that the journalist, who was not identified by name, “displayed a form of union accreditation to officers” and said authorities “will review the evidence and circumstances of this arrest.”
“Officers are expected to familiarise themselves with media and union accreditation and to check in with supervisors if unsure or unclear. We are absolutely committed to the freedom of media reporting at events and protests,” the statement said.
Felgate told CPJ that police previously detained him while he covered two other environmental protests, but said he had never been charged with a crime and that investigations into his actions had been dropped.
He said he believed that authorities used anti-protest laws to stop “independent media telling a story the government doesn’t like,” and said that officers “presume guilt by association, just for being there.”