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Reporters covering #BlackLivesMatter arrested for "obstructing a highway"

Police in riot gear block a street as hundreds of marchers take to the streets to protest against the recent fatal shootings of black men by police July 8, 2016
Police in riot gear block a street as hundreds of marchers take to the streets to protest against the recent fatal shootings of black men by police July 8, 2016

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 12 July 2016.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is concerned by the arrests of at least 5 journalists while covering #blacklivesmatter protests in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Rochester, New York over the weekend.

Journalists charged with “obstruction of a highway” in Baton Rouge

At least three journalists were arrested and charged with “obstruction of a highway” while covering #blacklivesmatter protests Saturday night in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The protests were in response to the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by two police officers on July 5.

Chris Slaughter, assistant news director for local station WAFB, was arrested Saturday night while working as a field producer on assignment. WAFB news director Robb Hays confirmed that Slaughter was taken into custody after putting one foot onto the highway where he was standing, in order to get a better angle to film. Police had repeatedly ordered people in the area to stay off the highway. At the time of his arrest he was wearing a WAFB shirt and media credentials. Slaughter spent the night in jail and was released Sunday afternoon, but Hays told RSF that the charges against Slaughter are still pending.

Lee Stranahan, a reporter for Breitbart news, and Ryan Kailath, a reporter for NPR's New Orleans affiliate WWNO, were also arrested Saturday and charged with “obstruction of a highway.”

Journalists briefly detained in Rochester, New York

Carlet Cleare and Justin Carter, both reporters with ABC's affiliate 13WHAM, were arrested around 9:45pm Friday while covering a protest against police brutality in Rochester, New York. Carter's arrest was caught live on camera.

Both journalists were briefly detained before being released. In a statement, 13WHAM thanked the Rochester police department for “quickly recognizing that this was an inappropriate way to handle the situation and...appreciates the public apology issued by both [the police chief] and [the] Mayor. We encourage better dialogue with law enforcement to better identify reporters in the field to avoid a situation like this.”

“The United States, the country of the First Amendment, cannot afford to keep journalists from reporting by arresting them for merely covering protests against police brutality,” said Delphine Halgand, the US Director of Reporters Without Borders.

Last year, several journalists were arrested while covering #blacklivesmatter protests. At least two journalists were attacked or arrested by police during the Baltimore protests surrounding Freddie Gray's death between April 12 and April 28 2015. Another journalist was arrested while filming live coverage of a #blacklivesmatter protest in Minneapolis in November 2015.

These events mark an alarming trend of curtailing freedom of the press in the United States. The U.S. ranks 41 out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders' 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

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