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SPJ urges courts to drop charges against journalists in the U.S. and Myanmar


3/5/2021


CONTACT:
Matthew T. Hall, SPJ National President, 619-987-7786, mhall@spj.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists is frustrated and fed up with government agencies in the U.S. and worldwide targeting and arresting reporters for covering news. We urge all Americans to join us in a campaign to urge public officials that journalism is not a crime.

In Myanmar, six journalists face criminal charges carrying three-year prison sentences after being detained while covering protests in that country. In the United States, at least four journalists have court dates this month after being arrested while covering Black Lives Matter protests last summer.

Myanmar has a history of detaining journalists and SPJ is concerned for their safety. Likewise, we are appalled that American journalists continue to face charges and court dates for doing a public service.

We call on law enforcement agencies in the U.S. to drop charges against any journalist detained while doing their work, and we ask the Biden administration to publicly make that same statement in support. We call for the Myanmar government to immediately release and drop charges against Associated Press reporter Thein Zaw and five other journalists who were arrested for violation of a “public safety law” while covering street protests against the military’s overthrow of the elected civilian government.

In so doing, SPJ joins the AP in calling for Zaw’s release.

“Myanmar has a high-profile history of jailing journalists unjustly, and it's only getting worse,” said SPJ National President Matthew T. Hall. “Those journalists, like all journalists, are doing their jobs, and shouldn't be punished for it. What part of ‘journalism is not a crime’ do government officials not get?”

SPJ has been watching the situation in Myanmar for years and advocated for the release of Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in 2018.

While the majority of the 126+ journalists arrested or detained in the United States last year while covering Black Lives Matter protests were released without charges, at least four journalists are due in court this month. The charges range from disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, failure to disperse and interference with official acts. Andrea Sahouri, a reporter at the Des Moines Register, is set to go on trial Monday. The Register’s editorial board wrote, “That this trial is happening at all is a violation of free press rights and a miscarriage of justice.”

“We couldn’t agree more, and we urge the courts to throw out these cases and drop all charges against reporters,” Hall said. “Journalists here and abroad must be able to do their jobs without threat of arrest or reprisal. People worldwide need to be kept up to date with more journalism, not less. If you agree, tweet something, anything, to show that #journalismisnotacrime. And we'll keep fighting to protect journalists everywhere every day.”

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.

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