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Journalists arrested in Seattle, Milwaukee, Chicago

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From the Winter 2000 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 19.

From the Winter 2000 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 19.

Reporters continue to face arrest while doing their jobs. Journalists in Seattle, Milwaukee and Chicago were arrested while covering the news, and a reporter for an American publication in Malaysia will not be able to appeal his contempt charge.

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Charges dismissed after reporter jailed during WTO protests

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 Nov. 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 Dec. 1 on personal recognizance, and charges against him were dismissed after he made a court appearance Dec. 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 would not occur as the protests wound 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 bag 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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Reporter arrested while covering hit-and-run accident

A newspaper photographer covering a traffic accident is the second Milwaukee reporter recently to be arrested and detained while gathering news.

In early December, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel photographer Jeffrey Phelps was arrested by Milwaukee police while taking photographs at the scene of a hit-and-run accident.

In August, Jamaal Abdul-Alim, an African American general assignment reporter for the Journal Sentinel, was arrested by Milwaukee police while conducting interviews in an area notorious for disruptive cruising.

In both cases, the journalists were held by police after the arrests — Phelps for about 30 minutes and Abdul-Alim for four hours, according to Editor and Publisher.

The Journal Sentinel has filed a claim with the city for $50,000 in damages on behalf of Abdul-Alim and is considering filing a claim in the Phelps case.

Journal Sentinel Editor Martin Kaiser explained to Editor and Publisher that the Milwaukee police are interfering with journalists’ ability to inform the public. However, the Milwaukee police department said it has not changed its media access policy to police scenes and that journalists have access “wherever the public is,” reports Editor and Publisher.

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Chicago reporter pleads guilty to misdemeanor charges after arrest

A Chicago Tribune staff writer arrested in November while covering a fire pleaded guilty on Dec. 3 to misdemeanor charges of battery and resisting arrest, according to Tribune reports. In exchange, prosecutors dropped the charge of aggravated battery to a police officer.

Reporter Richard Longworth entered the guilty plea before Associate Cook County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Chambers, who imposed a sentence of court supervision for one year.

Longworth, who was in the area of the fire and decided to stop and investigate, was in his car when two plainclothes police officers approached and asked him to move his vehicle. After a confrontational exchange, Longworth was arrested for assault, obstructing traffic, reckless driving, disobeying an officer and resisting arrest.

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Freed journalist withdraws appeal to Malaysian court

The bureau chief for Far Eastern Economic Review, who recently spent a month in a Malaysian prison, would have to make court appearances in Malaysia to attack his contempt sentence, and rather than return, Murray Hiebert has withdrawn his appeal to the Federal Court of Malaysia, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Hiebert, who was released on Oct. 11, would have to return to Malaysia for more court appearances and post a $52,600 deposit in order to pursue an appeal, the high court ruled in late October.

The Canadian-born journalist was forced to stay in Malaysia for two years after his conviction in 1997 for writing an article that the judges claimed “scandalized the court system.” The article suggested that a lawsuit brought by an appellate court judge’s wife moved quickly through the judicial process. (See NM&L, Fall 1999)

Hiebert now lives with his family in Washington, D.C., where he will head the Economic Review’s Washington bureau.

“We are not aware of any jurisdiction in the Commonwealth that requires an appellant who already has served his sentence to continue to attend court proceedings,” said a spokesman for Dow Jones & Co., which owns the Economic Review.

In sentencing Hiebert to three months in jail, the judges said they had grown tired of media attacks on the judiciary. An appeals court upheld the conviction but reduced the jail time to six weeks. Hiebert was released two weeks early for good behavior.