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Six journalists questionably charged with felony rioting during inauguration protests

Fairfax criminal defense lawyer and First Amendment advocate on rioting prosecutions against journalists arrested during inaugural protests

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At least six journalists are being prosecued in the District of Columbia Superior Court with felony rioting, apparently while covering violent and/or vandalizing protesters during the January 20, 2017, inauguration of Donald Trump. Even though several of these journalists are from alternative news organizations, these prosecutions are no less concerning about the extent to which these are baseless or trumped-up charges.

With this inauguration as with past demonstrations in Washington, D.C., police have been accused of corralling innocent bystanders in with those allegedly committing crimes, providing no exit for innocent bystanders.

The nation’s capital must not be entrenched in a culture of indiscriminate corralling of people and even arrest through suspicion of guilt by innocent proximity on the street, nor in a culture of paying short shrift to the First Amendment rights of protesters and of journalists covering them.

PEN America’s Suzanne Nossel said: “’These felony charges are bizarre and essentially unheard of when it comes to journalists here in America who were simply doing their job,.. They weren’t even in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were in the right place.’”

Lawyer Mark Goldstone — with whom I am friendly and sometimes collaborated — represents around fifty of those arrested during the inauguration day protests, and said that police  “‘basically identified a location that had problems and arrested everyone in that location.'” Goldstone asserted contested as an overreach the high number of people charged with felony rioting, and asserted that police “‘arrested everyone in a single location including reporters, lawyers, law students, and non-riotous protesters.'”

Not only is it essential for police and government to protect First Amendment free expression and press rights, but this video by RT journalist Alexander Rubinstein — among those being prosecuted for rioting, as I confirmed to the District of Columbia Superior Court online docket — posted by the Guardian, which apparently covered the rioting prosecution of journalists early on, underlines why it is so important for us to have free access to press coverage of such important events.