Reporters arrested covering violence in D.C., Miami, war in Chechnya

Page Number: 
22

From the Spring 2000 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 22.



Reporters faced arrest -- and even assault charges -- while covering recent protests in Miami and Washington, D.C., while another reporter was arrested in Arkansas in a dispute over public records.

A reporter for an American government news service was arrested in Chechnya, and a reporter who had been held hostage in Beirut received what may be an uncollectable damages award against Iran.

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Reporters arrested during Elian protests

Among the hundreds of protesters arrested after Elian Gonzalez was seized by United States federal agents from his uncle's home in Miami on April 22 were several reporters covering the scene. In addition, several journalists reported threats of arrest, harassment or assault by police officers.

The protests began just after Elian was whisked from the house, as more than 300 people began to set fires and block traffic. Many were arrested on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to attempted murder.

Carolyn Cole, a Los Angeles Times photographer, was arrested on a felony charge after authorities alleged she threw rocks at police and then photographed the commotion she caused. She was officially charged with "throwing a deadly missile," paid a $7,500 bond and was released Saturday, according to The Miami Herald.

"Carolyn Cole was covering the protests in Miami as a news photographer, not participating in them, and her photos published in the Times make that clear," Times editor Michael Parks said in an interview in his newspaper. "In arresting Cole and detaining her for more than eight hours before releasing her on bond, Miami police prevented her from continuing to report a story of national importance. We see this as an abridgement of the people's right to know under the Constitution. We will ask for the immediate dismissal of the charge against her."

The Times reported that, if convicted, Cole could face up to five years in prison.

Two NBC News freelancers, soundman Gustavo Moller and cameraman Tony Zumbado, were intercepted by Immigration and Naturalization Service agents on the lawn of the house as the raid was beginning. Their cables were yanked out, and Moller was struck near his eye with an agent's gun.

"A goon all dressed in black put a shotgun (to my head), and he hit me with the point of the rifle and ordered me to sit down while holding the gun," he told the Herald. NBC has protested the treatment of the two to the INS.

Several other reporters became the target of the protestors' rage and police aggression when an angry crowd tore down the CNN tent set up on the grounds of the house. Police then told reporters they could no longer protect them and asked them to remove all press booths and clear out of the area. Those who stayed faced arrest, and probable loss of equipment.

NBC's Bruce Bernstein, Alberto Durruthy, who was working for ABC, and Herald photographer Raul Rubeira were all taken into custody as well on Saturday. Rubiera was charged with disorderly conduct after snapping a photo of a police officer when told to step back from the sidewalk. Durruthy was arrested, but not charged, when he allegedly blocked an officer trying to take another person into a patrol wagon. Bernstein was charged with battery on a police officer and resisting arrest with violence.

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Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer arrested during IMF protest

A Washington Post photographer was arrested and detained as police arrested more than 600 protesters marching near the Washington, D.C., offices of the World Bank on April 15. Two journalists for the Associated Press also reported being struck by police with batons.

Three-time Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Carol Guzy was among a group of photographers covering what D.C. police called an "unlicensed parade" protesting World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies during those groups' spring meeting in Washington.

Guzy momentarily moved away from the group and was seized by a police officer. She and Associated Press photographer, Kamenko Pajic, were taken from the protest area into a cordoned off section where Guzy was arrested and handcuffed. Pajic photographed the arrest.

Pajic told the Associated Press he was unsure what prompted Guzy's arrest and noted that she was wearing her press credentials. The Post reported that an officer twisted Guzy's arm and arrested her after she complained. She was later held in a bus and in a cell before being released at 12:30 a.m. Sunday with all charges dropped. She told National Public Radio on Sunday afternoon that newspaper officials had intervened to secure her release.

The Associated Press also confirmed that an AP Radio reporter was struck by police, and a freelance photographer working with the service was reportedly knocked unconscious and treated at a hospital for a head wound.

Guzy received the third Pulitzer Prize of her career just days before the protest for her coverage of the lives of refugees during the war in Kosovo and as they returned to their destroyed towns.

Guzy and D.C. police officials were not available for comment. Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. said in the Post report that he was "very alarmed" that Guzy had been arrested.

Asked about the arrests of non-demonstrators, including tourists and other bystanders, Assistant D.C. Police Chief Terrance Gainer told one reporter, "To the extent we arrested a person that shouldn't have been, I apologize."

The protestors arrested were charged with conducting a parade without a license.

"They were peaceful at first and we simply monitored them, but at one point they became disorderly and were told that they would have to cease the parade," Police Chief Charles Ramsey said at a news conference. "They were given warnings and refused to do so."

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Reporter arrested after dispute over public records access

A reporter was charged with "obstructing government operations" on March 20 after a request to see information on an inmate's furlough records led to an argument with a sheriff.

Reporter Toni Walthall of the Magnolia, Arkansas Banner-News, received a tip that a Columbia County inmate, who had previously been convicted of arson and burglary, had been granted a weekend furlough on the condition that he stay at his parent's house. A grease fire destroyed the home that same weekend.

Walthall went to the jail requesting to see Bradley's furlough report and spoke with Sheriff Wayne Tompkins.

According to Walthall, Tompkins refused to show her the documents, which are considered public records under Arkansas law, claiming that he had not had a chance to review them yet. After further exchange, Walthall was repeatedly asked to leave the area which was marked for authorized personnel, although reporters and other visitors had traditionally been allowed there, according to Walthall.

Walthall was arrested by a passing deputy at Tompkin's request and taken across the street to the jail. She was initially charged with obstruction of a law office, which is a felony, but the charge was later reduced to obstructing government operations, a misdemeanor; her trial was scheduled for May 2.

The newspaper subsequently filed a request for the records Walthall had been seeking. The sheriff's 72-hour delay in providing the records prompted the Banner-News to file suit and Circuit Judge Larry Chandler ruled that Tompkins violated Arkansas's Freedom of Information Act by failing to provide records in a timely manner.

In an Associated Press article, Chandler said that "records could have been released as they were located and Tompkins did not make an effort to comply with the law."

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Reporter Who Covered Chechen War Released

Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky was returned to Moscow February 29 after spending nearly one month imprisoned in Chechnya.

While covering the recent events in Chechnya in January, Babitsky was arrested and detained by Russian authorities who claimed he lacked proper accreditation and was consorting with the rebels. After being held for a number of days, Babitsky was handed over to a group of masked men in return for Russian prisoners of war.

A brief videotape delivered by two unidentified men to Radio Free Liberty headquarters in February showed Babitsky saying he was "relatively all right" but unable to come home "immediately."

For 11 years, Babitsky has been a correspondent for Radio Liberty, a U.S.-funded station providing news, analysis and discussion of domestic and regional issues to countries where media are struggling to gain financial and editorial independence.

After much protest from the Russian press and public, acting president Vladimir Putin stepped in and sent a plane to fly Babitsky out of Chechnya.

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Reporter receives compensation judgement for six years of captivity

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson on March 24 ordered Iran to pay $341 million to one-time hostage Terry Anderson and his family for treatment deemed both "savage and cruel by any civilized standards."

Anderson, former chief correspondent for the Associated Press for the Middle East and current Ohio University journalism professor, was abducted on March 16, 1985, as he returned to his apartment in east Beirut where he and his fiance, who was then seven months pregnant, were living. He spent the next six years in captivity, blindfolded and chained as he was repeatedly moved to different sites, left in unsanitary conditions, and fed only bread and water.

His fiance, Madeleine Basil, raised their child, Sulome Theresa Anderson, alone and repeatedly fought bouts of depression, she testified. The couple married after Anderson was released. They said that adjusting to a new life after his return was difficult and it took about five years for them to become a "relatively normal family."

Jackson's opinion said the evidence from the lawsuit filed in March 1999 against Iran and its Ministry of Information and Society clearly states that Anderson had been held captive by agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran, also known as Hezbollah or the "Party of God." An expert testified that the taking of foreign hostages was a "principal activity" of Hezbollah in efforts to further their political aims.

Iran was ordered to pay $24.5 million to Anderson, $10 million to his wife and $6.7 million to Sulome. Jackson ordered an additional $300 million to be paid to the family by the Ministry of Information and Security in lieu of punitive damages. The Iranian government did not acknowledge the suit, appear for the trial or respond to served papers, and was ruled in default.

Anderson and his family may never see the awarded money. Payment would have to come from U.S.-held Iranian assets, which a Clinton administration official said "cannot be touched because of international agreements."