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Charges dismissed after reporter arrested, jailed over WTO protests

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    NMU         WASHINGTON         Press at Home & Abroad         Dec 3, 1999    

Charges dismissed after reporter arrested, jailed over WTO protests

  • Media credentials and statements by Kery Murakami that he was just covering the raging street protests provoked by the World Trade Organization conference did not save him from arrest and a night in jail.

Criminal charges for failure to disperse leveled against a reporter who was among the hundreds rounded up in Seattle’s Capitol Hill area and arrested during the World Trade Organization protests on November 30 were dismissed three days later.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Kery Murakami was handcuffed, shackled, and jailed overnight after three police officers ignored the fact that he was standing on a corner taking notes and took little notice of the WTO reporter’s credentials he showed them.

Murakami was part of a team of Post-Intelligencer reporters assembled to cover the November 30 protests and had been tear-gassed six times earlier that day before being arrested. Murakami was taking notes and told Seattle police he was a reporter covering a story as he was being arrested, but he was forced to the pavement, handcuffed, and thrown into a police van nevertheless. Police released Murakami on the morning of December 1 on personal recognizance, and charges against him were dismissed after he made a court appearance December 3.

Under the state criminal code, failure to disperse consists of congregating with a group of at least three people, involves “acts of conduct within that group which create a substantial risk of causing injury to any person, or substantial harm to property,” and is a misdemeanor.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press protested Murakami’s arrest and encouraged Seattle Mayor Paul Schell to take steps to ensure similar arrests do not occur as the protests wind down.

“These journalists are providing a great public service, and even when they report news that may not place authorities in a flattering light, they are engaged in a constitutionally protected activity. The citizens of Seattle, and indeed the world, have a right to know what is happening on the streets around the trade conference, and a free, unrestrained news media is essential to that process,” according to the protest letter.

Murakami described the morning after his night in jail in the Post-Intelligencer: “I took my shoelaces and my clear plastic of belongings and went home. I washed off the tear gas and saw a large red welt on my shoulder — a souvenir of the ‘Battle in Seattle.'”

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© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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