Troubled by arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists in Ferguson, Missouri

Thursday, August 21, 2014

His Excellency Bruce Heyman, Ambassador of the United States of America to Canada
Embassy of the United States of America
PO Box 866, Station B
Ottawa, ON, K1N 5T1

Dear Ambassador,

I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.

CJFE is deeply troubled by the arbitrary arrest and detention of CTV’s Los Angeles Bureau Chief Tom Walters in Ferguson, Missouri on August 19. Walters is one of many journalists who has been reporting on the ongoing protests that have been taking place in Ferguson in the wake of the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a police officer on August 9. In video footage captured by CTV News cameraman Liam Hyland, Walters can be seen approaching Capt. Ron Johnson from Missouri Highway Patrol and asking why media are being asked to clear the area. Several police officers promptly close in on Walters as a voice in the background shouts “arrest him” repeatedly. Walters is then shoved to the ground and handcuffed.

Walters is one of at least 13 journalists who have been arrested in the course of covering demonstrations in Ferguson. All were subsequently released hours later without charge or explanation for their detention. Several journalists have also reported being assaulted and manhandled by police officers. On August 13, an Al Jazeera America crew was shot at with teargas and rubber bullets by police while reporting from behind a barricade, even as they were clearly identifiable as a television crew and repeatedly shouted “Press.”

Observers have reportedly witnessed police officers inhibiting journalists’ movements and trying to control what they can see, insisting that press leave the area before beginning to clear the scene of demonstrators. When police brutality is at issue, attempts to obstruct journalists from reporting on interactions between protesters and officers are extremely disconcerting. CJFE is concerned that the detention and intimidation of journalists in Ferguson is designed to prevent honest and objective reporting on the demonstrations. These actions constitute a grave violation of the right to free expression and points to a disturbing attempt to limit the flow of information about both the protests and police actions in Ferguson.

CJFE urges Ferguson police to respect the free expression rights of all individuals, including demonstrators and journalists who are simply doing their jobs and attempting to report on events as they unfold.

We thank you for your attention and I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Arnold Amber, CJFE President

Cc: Mr. Gary Doer, Ambassador of Canada to the United States of America
The Honourable John Baird, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs