U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

DC police threaten Turkish VOA camera operator, team with batons

Incident Details

May 31, 2020

Police brandished batons and forcibly moved three journalists for Voice of America’s Turkish service — after they identified themselves as members of the press — while they covered protests against police violence in Washington, D.C., on May 31, 2020, according to a VOA report.

Camera operator Tezcan Taskiran and reporters Mehtap Yilmaz and Uzeyir Yanar were reporting that Sunday night on demonstrations near St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square, near the White House.

Yilmaz told VOA that at about 10:30 p.m., police officers at the scene raised batons and advanced on her, her colleagues and others standing in the area and ordered them to leave, despite the fact that Yilmaz’s colleagues were carrying video cameras and that the team identified themselves as journalists.

“There was a harsh intervention of the police against journalists during the protests. Although we showed our press cards, we were drastically removed from the protests in front of the White House,” Yilmaz told VOA.

A spokesperson for VOA declined to comment to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker on the incident. The agency also declined to make Taskiran, Yanar or Yilmaz available for interviews.

Yilmaz was one of several VOA journalists, some of whom have covered conflicts around the globe, who told the news service they were surprised by the violence they encountered at the hands of both police and demonstrators taking part in this year’s protests.

It isn’t clear from Yilmaz’s published account of the May 31 incident which law enforcement agency approached the news crew.

The same day that VOA journalists were forced from the area around St. John’s Church, fire was set to a nursery room in the basement of the church’s parish house. Firefighters extinguished the blaze, which didn’t spread to other parts of the building.

On June 1, St. John’s became the backdrop for a controversial photo op for President Donald Trump. National Guard troops used tear gas and pepper balls to clear protesters from the area before Trump posed for cameras while holding up a Bible.

Protests against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Movement have been held across the country after a viral video showed a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas or who had their equipment damaged in the course of reporting. Find all incidents related to Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests here.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].