June 20, 2021

In ‘exceedingly rare’ case, Iowa journalist faces charges from reporting on summer protests

The trial of a Des Moines Register reporter who was arrested covering racial justice protests last summer is slated to begin next week in what experts said is a rare criminal prosecution of a journalist on assignment in the USA.

Andrea Sahouri faces charges of failure to disperse and interference with official acts and is set to stand trial starting Monday.

At least 126 journalists were arrested or detained in 2020, but only 14 still face charges, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. The group’s managing editor, Kirstin McCudden, said it’s “surprising and unknown” why Sahouri’s charges remain.

Media and journalism groups called for the charges to be dropped, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and students and staff from the Columbia University School of Journalism, where Sahouri earned a master’s degree. The human rights organization Amnesty International has also taken up the cause.

“That this trial is happening at all is a violation of free press rights and a miscarriage of justice,” the Des Moines Register’s Editorial Board wrote in an editorial.

Carol Hunter, the newspaper’s executive editor, told USA TODAY that the Register is helping Sahouri fight the charges because they “see it as a fundamental principle … that a reporter has a right to be at a protest scene to be able to observe what is going on and to report.”

Sahouri was arrested while on assignment at a mall in Des Moines to cover protests in the days after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died as a white police officer knelt on his neck. Floyd’s death provoked unrest across the country, and Des Moines experienced days of protest demanding racial justice and changes to policing.

Police and prosecutors have provided few details about the incident May 31. Sahouri said she repeatedly told officers she was a journalist working in her official capacity to report on the protest.

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