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Student journalists arrested in Atlanta

(IPI/IFEX) - 10 November 2011 - The arrest of two university students who were covering 'Occupy' protests in the U.S. city of Atlanta for their campus newspapers has raised concerns about police treatment of student journalists. Alisen Redmond, news editor of the Kennesaw State University (KSU) Sentinel, and Judith Kim, a photography editor of the Georgia State University (GSU) Signal, were taken into custody while reporting on demonstrations near Atlanta's Woodruff Park on 6 November. The pair spent 14 hours in jail before being released and ordered to reappear on March 9, 2012 to face charges of "obstruction of traffic", the Sentinel and Signal reported.

The charges were upheld despite the fact that both journalists were arrested on a street that police had already closed to traffic, although pedestrians were apparently forbidden from entering as well. Ms. Kim told the Signal that she was unaware that being on the street would lead to her arrest and that police summarily took her into custody despite her yelling, "I'm student media!"

"I tried to step away, but they came after me," said Ms. Kim, who added that she was "by no means obstructing traffic". She told the Signal that police did not say anything to her as they arrested her and that she did not understand the purported reason for her detention until several hours later.

The Signal reported, and photographs confirm, that Ms. Kim was wearing a T-shirt with 'The Signal' plainly visible, although she did not have her press pass with her. However, news reports said that Ms. Redmond did have a press pass on her that clearly showed her name, picture, and media affiliation.

In a letter to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a copy of which was obtained by the International Press Institute (IPI), Ed Bonza and Dr. Bryce McNeil, student media advisors at KSU and GSU, respectively, expressed "strong disagreement" with the arrests of Ms. Redmond and Ms. Kim. The letter emphasised that the two students had "properly addressed and acknowledged the orders of officers when vocalized at all times".

Moreover, IPI is disturbed to hear that, according to Mr. Bonza and Mr. McNeil's letter, "at least one student journalist was informed that she did not enjoy the same rights accorded to members of 'professional media'".

IPI condemns the arrests of Ms. Kim and Ms. Redmond and demands that all charges be dropped against them immediately. IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: "No student journalist should be hindered from doing his or her job. Student journalists, like all members of the media, have fundamental rights, which must be respected by the authorities. While we understand the need for certain measures designed to safeguard public order, we are disappointed that Atlanta police did not distinguish in this case between protesters and journalists carrying out a vital public service. Press freedom extends to all journalists, regardless of how widely distributed their medium."

Professor Joseph B. Treaster, the Knight Chair in Cross-Cultural Communication at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida, and an IPI member, said: "Student journalists should have the same rights of access as any other journalist. It's hard to tell what the police were thinking in this case. Was it an officer overreacting? Is this an expression of police department policy? We're seeing arrests of professional journalists in some places in connection with the Occupy protests. None of these arrests should be happening."

According to local news outlets, police arrested 20 individuals on 6 November after protesters converged upon Peachtree Street, next to Woodruff Park. Reports said that police had ordered protesters to vacate the park before 11 pm that day or risk arrest and had also warned them not to block roads surrounding the park.

In addition to the arrests of 17 protesters, police took Ms. Kim and Ms. Redmond, as well as Stephanie Pharr, a photo intern for Creative Loafing, into custody. Their case comes little over a week after police in Nashville arrested Malina Chavez-Shannon, a Middle Tennessee State University photojournalism student covering Occupy Nashville demonstrations.

As IPI reported earlier this week, the number of detentions of journalists covering 'Occupy' protests across the country has increased. Reporters in New York City, Oakland, Milwaukee, and Nashville were among those recently arrested despite presenting press credentials.

The arrests in Atlanta came as the American Society of News Editors promoted its semester-long "1 for All" program, designed to build understanding and support for First Amendment freedoms on college campuses around the country.

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