Today a jury in Polk County, Iowa, voted to acquit reporter Andrea Sahouri after she was arrested last summer while covering a Black Lives Matter protest. The decision follows three days of a trial that has been closely watched and a prosecution that has been widely criticized by press freedom and human rights advocates. Sahouri was one of more than 125 journalists arrested or detained last year in the United States in 2020, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a joint project by Freedom of the Press Foundation and Committee to Protect Journalists.
The vast majority of journalists were thankfully never charged or had their charges dropped before trial. However, Polk County persisted in bringing charges against Sahouri with counts of ‘failure to disperse’ and ‘interference with official acts,’ despite video evidence she was covering the protest for the Des Moines Register and had clearly identified herself as a journalist.
The following statement can be attributed to Trevor Timm, executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation:
Freedom of the Press Foundation is heartened that the jury apparently saw this case for what it is: a disgraceful use of prosecutorial resources and an assault on fundamental principles of press freedom. The jury verdict is welcome, but doesn’t fully lift the shadow this prosecution has cast over one of our country’s most core values.
Andrea Sahouri should never have been arrested while reporting at that protest in May. Once that egregious mistake was made clear, the charges should never have been filed, or immediately dropped. That these charges were pursued all the way to trial is a shame and an embarrassment for press freedom in the United States. We hope police and prosecutors around the country will learn from this case.
The following statement can be attributed to Kirstin McCudden, managing editor of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker:
As a journalist, I’m relieved for Andrea Sahouri. As a journalist who documents press freedom violations in the U.S. it’s a concerning precedent for her to have not only been arrested and assaulted with pepper spray while reporting but then to also face trial.
We hope this verdict affirms — not just for the journalists still facing charges from arrests while covering last year’s social justice protests — but also for the law students watching the trial — that First Amendment rights will prevail.