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Condemning charges against journalists covering Ferguson protests

This statement was originally published on cjfe.org on 12 August 2015.

CJFE condemns the recent charges laid against CTV's Los Angeles bureau chief Tom Walters, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly. All three journalists are facing charges stemming from their coverage of protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown on August 9, 2014.

Amid reports of a heavy handed police response to protests in Ferguson on the one-year anniversary of Brown's death, the three journalists are now unexpectedly facing charges almost a year after the incidents in question. Walters, who was detained for close to nine hours before being released without charge on August 19, 2014, stands accused of interfering with police officers. Reporters Lowery and Reilly have been charged with trespassing after police told them to leave a McDonald's restaurant which was being used as a space dedicated to press coverage on August 13, 2014; the two journalists were detained for 45 minutes that same day before being similarly released without charge.

The legal action taken against Walters, Lowery and Reilly is extremely worrisome and could induce a potential chill on free expression in the United States, particularly with regards to reporting on public demonstrations. During periods of social unrest, journalists play a crucial role as observers and disseminators of up-to-date news on these public interest issues, and thus must be allowed freedom to conduct their work.

CJFE urges authorities in Ferguson to drop all charges against Tom Walters, Wesley Lowery and Ryan Reilly. CJFE also requests that police officials provide increased clarity and guidelines on interactions between journalists and police during coverage of protests, in order to avoid similar situations in the future.

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