New Restrictions on White House press correspondents
On 7th May 2019, about 150 people gathered outside the state capitol in Atlanta to voice their opposition to a new law that effectively bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy in Georgia. The controversial “heartbeat bill” bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which in some cases, happens before the mother knows she is pregnant. “I have one message for you, Gov. Kemp: We will see you, sir, in court,” Staci Fox, of Planned Parenthood, told the group of protesters. Human rights groups, medical professionals and others have expressed concerns over the law and have vowed to continue their fight against it. Several prominent film companies have said they will halt production of popular shows and movies in the state if the law is not overturned. Similar legislation has been introduced or enacted in other states and is facing challenges in court.
On 10th May 2019, hundreds of anti-abortion activists rallied near a Planned Parenthood clinic in downtown Philadelphia after a video circulated of a local state representative confronting protesters outside the building. Billed as a “Rally Against Bullying,” the event was organised by Live Action, an anti-abortion group that says it were upset by the representative’s behavior. Carrying USA flags and signs with messages like “Pray to End Abortion" and “Mary Chose Life,” people listened to speeches by faith-based leaders.
With people chanting and holding signs saying “release the report,” hundreds of people participated in a protest in Chicago on 4th April 2019 to demand that Attorney General William Barr release the full Mueller report. The protest was one of several held in cities across the country in response to Barr’s release of only a redacted version of Robert Mueller’s investigation of President Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 elections. In New York City, video shows hundreds of activists with the groups MoveOn and Rise and Resist hosting a rally in Times Square on 3rd April 2019.
For more than a month, activists supporting the Maduro government in Venezuela have been protesting from inside the country’s embassy in Washington, DC. Members of Code Pink and other activists occupied the building left vacant by Venezuelan diplomats in April 2019 after President Trump’s administration offered backing to opposition leader Juan Guaido. The protesters say Venezuelan diplomats gave them permission to enter the building and that they plan to stay there despite the city cutting off the building’s water and power. In response to law enforcement trying to remove protestors, Venezuela's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs for North America Carlos Ron said online, “the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has not authorised the entry of police officers into the former Embassy building in Washington, DC. This intrusion is yet another violation of international law by US authorities and an aggression against Venezuela.” Counter-protesters, are holding protests outside of the building and calling for the people inside to abandon the embassy.
On 26th April 2019, hundreds of people demonstrated and marched outside of the Wilson Building in Washington, DC, as part of a protest against the District’s failure to protect bicycle riders on city streets. The “Rally for Streets that Don’t Kill People” came one week after the deaths of Dave Salovesh, a local bike activist, on a street without a protected bike lane, and Abdul Seck, a pedestrian killed by a speeding driver. As part of the protest, cyclists from across the country laid down in the street, and activists read aloud the names of 128 people who have been killed on D.C. roads since 2015. According to reports, last year’s 36 fatalities were about 44 percent higher than in 2010.
On 1st May 2019, hundreds of people rallied in Portland in opposition to federal immigration enforcement policies. The event was organised by Occupy ICE PDX, a group fighting for immigrant justice, with many people chanting "No KKK, no fascist USA, no cops” and "ICE out of Portland.” According to social media posts, protesters played a recording of a crying child who had been taken into custody at the border and separated from her father, and protesters also pushed a large wooden crib with a baby doll. A small number of counter-protesters were also present but there were no reports of violence. May Day, also known as International Workers' Day, commonly includes rallies and marches over issues such as equality and unemployment.
On 25th March 2019, Kentucky’s largest school district turned over a list of teachers who participated in recent protests at the state capitol. The names were requested by Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis after Jefferson County Public Schools says they were forced to cancel classes due to teacher absences. Lewis could recommend that teachers who participated in the protest have their licenses suspended or revoked if he determines teachers misused sick leave. Teachers say they did not conduct a walk-out, but instead used their vacation days to protest proposals that the Kentucky legislature were considering that would change who manages the teachers’ pension fund.
In response to widespread protest over the construction of oil pipelines in the state, on 27th March 2019 the governor of North Dakota signed into law a series of bills designed to protect energy companies from public protests. Among the bills, S189 creates civil liability for “riot boosters,” allowing the state to sue any individual or organisation for encouraging a protest where acts of violence occur. That means individuals can now be held criminally or civilly liable even if they “do not personally participate in any riot but directs, advises, encourages, or solicits other persons participating in the riot.” The Oglala Sioux tribe is strongly opposed to the law. “We have a right to speak freely,” Chase Iron Eyes, Director of Public Relations for the Tribe told the Washington Post. “We have a right to peaceably assemble.” The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the state, saying the laws unconstitutionally target protected speech.
In early May 2019 the Trump administration implemented new standards for journalists to receive press credentials to attend White House press briefings, essentially revoking the passes for many longtime White House reporters. The new policy requires that for journalists to maintain their “hard pass,” they must have been in the building at least 90 of the past 180 days, including weekends. Almost the entire White House press corps would not meet the standard and reporters will only be granted access if given an exemption from the White House. Dana Milbank, a Washington Post reporter who has covered four presidents, said, “White House officials then chose which journalists would be granted ‘exceptions.’ It did this over objections from news organisations and the White House Correspondents’ Association.” It remains unclear who will have permission. This move as seen as another “attack” on the media by Trump who describes the media as the “enemy of the American people,” targets critical journalists and media outlets for retaliation and tells his supporters that credible reporting is “fake news”.
On 21st March 2019, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at prioritising free speech on college campuses. The executive order, titled “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities,” will require colleges to certify that they are enforcing free speech standards in order to receive federal grant money. The order does not include the specific language higher education institutions are being told to agree to, nor does it include procedures for how the administration would define infringement on First Amendment rights or how its sanctions would be implemented. The order is widely seen as a symbolic gesture to the President's conservative base after several colleges refused to allow controversial speakers to hold events on their campuses. In a related story, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed a so-called “free speech” bill on 27th March 2019 that requires state universities and colleges to adopt policies respecting free speech.
On 11th April 2019, Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, was arrested by police in London on a U.S. extradition warrant. Assange had been living at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since he took asylum there in 2012. Hours after being extradited from the embassy, the Department of Justice charged Assange with one count of “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion,” related to an attempt in 2010 to help whistle-blower Chelsea Manning hack a government computer to obtain classified information. It is unclear whether he will be extradited to the U.S. Free press advocates are alarmed by how the DOJ treats journalistic practices as part of a criminal conduct. “[I]t’s very troubling that the indictment sweeps in activities that are not just lawful but essential to press freedom — activities like cultivating sources, protecting sources’ identities, and communicating with sources securely,” says Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute.
On 18th March 2019, the State Department barred certain media organisations from a briefing call with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, stating that only “faith-based media” were permitted to participate. The topic of the briefing was “international religious freedom” in advance of the secretary’s trip to Beirut, Jerusalem, and Kuwait City. Reports also indicate that State department officials also refused to release a full transcript or a list of attendees. “It's perfectly fine to ensure faith-based media have a seat at such a table. But it's PR malpractice to cut off access to the broader press corps. I wish I could say I expected more from this crowd,” former State Department spokesperson John Kirby said.
On 11th April 2019, lawmakers in Illinois passed a bill that would impose major penalties on protests that impede pipeline construction and operations and hold organisations that support such protests liable. Because its definition of critical infrastructure is ambiguous, the bill also could lead to penalties for “damaging” property in a rail yard, trucking station, or even a telephone pole. Several environmental and civil rights groups have expressed opposition to the bill and over 3,000 people participated in a written protest against HB 1633. A similar bill in Texas- HB 3557 - would impose sanctions on peaceful civil disobedience at oil and gas sites. It is also being challenged for its restrictions of First Amendment-protected activities.
On 2nd April 2019, lawmakers in Georgia proposed a bill that would create a Journalism Ethics Board to be in charge of accrediting journalists and organisations, investigating and sanctioning journalists after complaints are filed by the public, and setting rules and standards to adhere to “factual and ethical reporting.” Richard T. Griffiths, president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, described the bill as unconstitutional and unnecessary. “Frankly, this is the kind of proposal one would expect to surface in a banana republic, not the peach state.”
On 16th April 2019 members of the Tennessee Highway Patrol threatened several reporters with arrest and blocked them from reporting on a sit-in protest outside Governor Bill Lee’s office in Nashville. The officers told reporters they would be arrested if they did not leave, even after reporters identified themselves as members of the media. Natalie Allison of The Tennessean, described the encounter with troopers online, saying troopers threatened to arrest her and others if they didn’t leave the building immediately. Chris Walker, communications director for the governor, later released a statement in which he said, "[W]e do not condone threatening of arrest to reporters while they are doing their jobs in trying to cover news." In February 2019, Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers blocked reporters’ access to a capitol hallway protest about a confederate statue.
A Handmaids Coalition member leaves the Capitol in Atlanta after a protest against Georgia's "heartbeat" bill, which bans abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy.— AFP news agency (@AFP) May 17, 2019
This week Alabama signed the most restrictive abortion law in the US -- a ban even in cases of rape and incest pic.twitter.com/qMTvIw0LPe
White House imposes new rules on reporters’ credentials, raising concerns about access. Something I wrote: https://t.co/srXsyLojYo— Paul Farhi (@farhip) May 9, 2019
On 28th March 2019, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that requires member states to create criminal penalties for terrorist financing. With significant lobbying efforts by civil society organisations the measure includes safeguards for humanitarian activities, but requested for language on protection of peace-building and concerns about further bank de-risking of nonprofit organisations were not adopted. Resolution 2462 to “combat, criminalize financing of terrorists, their activities” states that countries must meet their obligations under international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law, noting that, the “failure to comply with these and other international obligations, including under the Charter of the United Nations, is one of the factors contributing to increased radicalization to violence and fosters a sense of impunity.” Civil society groups played an influential role in negotiations for the resolution, but caution that the freedom of association of groups operating in global hot spots could be affected.