USA: Freedoms at risk with media raids and surveillance of protesters
Local newspaper raided
On 11th August 2023, police in Kansas raided the Marion County Record’s office—a local newspaper—as well as the publisher’s home after it allegedly began investigating a prominent local businessperson. Police seized computers, cell phones and reporting materials from the local. The search warrant, signed by Marion County District Court Magistrate Judge Laura Viar, appears to violate a federal law that provides protection against searching and seizing materials from journalists.
On 16th August, following the decision by Marion County to withdraw the search warrant, a court order was issued that same day, mandating the police return all equipment seized in the raid.
In a letter sent to Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and more than 35 news media organisations condemned the raid and urged the Marion Police Department to “immediately return any seized equipment and records to the newspaper; purge any such records retained by the police department; and initiate a full, independent, and transparent review into the department’s actions.”
Update: On Aug. 30, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office turned over the digital files police secretly copied from the @marionrecord during their raid on the Kansas paper’s offices and destroyed the backups. https://t.co/MDIjRBGigc— U.S. Press Freedom Tracker (@uspresstracker) September 6, 2023
Court imposes prior restraint on reporter's proceedings notes
On 28th July, a reporter for the News & Record was covering a juvenile court hearing in North Carolina when the judge seized her notes and told her she was under a gag order. Kenwyn Caranna said she was observing the hearing when the judge asked her to identify herself and denied her request to speak with an attorney involved in the case after she said she was a reporter.
The judge then directed bailiffs to seize Caranna’s notes from the day’s proceedings, telling the journalist she could appeal the decision at a later date. The News & Record has requested a hearing to vacate the gag order as well as unseal and return Caranna’s notes.
A federal judge upholds the right to record the police
On 21st July 2023, a federal judge ruled that HB 2319 was unconstitutional, asserting a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The legislation aimed to prohibit the video recording of police activity within eight feet of officers, constituting a class 3 misdemeanor charge punishable by a maximum of 30 days in jail. However, there were a few exceptions, including a person who is the subject of police contact.
Before the ruling, a settlement was reached with Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes. "This settlement will ensure every Arizonan’s fundamental rights are protected, and people are not criminalised exercising their First Amendment rights. Recording police officers is an important tool for holding law enforcement accountable to the public they are sworn to serve. We hope this settlement will deter the Arizona state legislature from continuing to pass flagrantly unconstitutional laws against the advice of their own attorneys”, said K.M. Bell, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Arizona.
HB 2319, passed last year, was blocked by a federal judge in September 2022 and never came into force. This followed a legal challenge by a coalition of 10 media organisations and the ACLU of Arizona, who filed a lawsuit against the state of Arizona, arguing that the law was unconstitutional.
GREAT NEWS: The ACLU of Arizona and a group of ten media organizations have reached a settlement agreement with the Arizona Attorney General to permanently block the unconstitutional police recording law that passed in 2022. https://t.co/Qrfqxalzgg— ACLU of Arizona (@ACLUaz) July 14, 2023
Lack of protection of protestors’ constitutional rights raises concerns
Following the arrests of dozens of activists in and around Atlanta and the continued harassment of protestors by police, in July 2023, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Brennan Center for Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials calling on the federal government to investigate the intelligence-gathering on protesters against “Cop City”.
According to civil rights organisations, “recent events in Atlanta make clear that lax DHS standards and intelligence practices have contributed to concerning arrests and prosecution of individuals associated with a movement to stop the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center (‘Cop City’ or ‘the Atlanta Training Center’). These events are the latest example of inadequate DHS protections for people’s constitutional rights as they starkly illustrate the dangers of DHS’s use of vague, overbroad, and stigmatizing terms like ‘domestic violent extremist’ and ‘militant’ to describe individuals who may be engaged in protected First Amendment activity. DHS policy effectively permits the monitoring, collection, and retention of a broad range of First Amendment-protected speech, association, and activity and risks contributing to violations of other constitutional rights.”
Moreover, the letter drew attention to the dozens of environmental protesters arrested and charged with domestic terrorism. Some charges have caused outrage among many observers who accuse Georgia law enforcement of a heavy-handed crackdown on the protest movement.
Protests emerge in major US cities addressing socio-political crises in Israel, Armenia and the Philippines
On 7th July, about 150 people protested in New York City against Israel’s judicial overhaul. Demonstrating near the Statute of Liberty, the crowd expressed support for the millions of Israelis opposing the Prime Minister’s recent actions on the judiciary. “We're sending fair winds to fill the sails of freedom and support the fighters for democracy on the front lines,” one person said. With its judicial overhaul, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to assert more control over the choice of the justices sitting on the Supreme Court and to grant less power to the judiciary.
On 9th August, hundreds of people from the Armenian community blocked a major highway in Glendale, California, to show support for Armenians in Artsakh and to protest against Azerbaijan for blocking the Lachin Corridor. Artsakh is a landlocked republic with a large Armenian population subject to decades of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In December 2022, Azerbaijan started blocking a route known as the Lachin Corridor, which is the only overland connector to Armenia.
On 23rd July, hundreds of people marched in Los Angeles to protest the Filipino president’s State of the Nation address and highlight the struggles of the Filipino people. This year’s protest events highlighted the issues under the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. presidency, including record high inflation and low wages, intense political repression with prosecutions and killings, and an increased U.S. military presence. The event included speeches and ended with a song and the destruction of a papier mâché sculpture of Marcos Jr., inspired by the tradition of burning dictator effigies, which is practised at protests in the Philippines.
Public-sector unions face labour rights restrictions
On 10th May, the Florida Education Association and three affiliated unions sued Governor Ron DeSantis over anti-union legislation they say violates their right to freedom of association and the Constitution’s 14th Amendment for “equal protection of the laws”.
The lawsuit says Florida’s (SB) 256 eliminates educators’ choice to have union dues deducted from their paychecks and requires union membership density to be at least 60% or risk decertification (both moves make it difficult to maintain a union in a workplace). “DeSantis has made it clear he is targeting educators because we exercise our constitutional right to speak out against attempts by this governor and others to stymie the freedom to learn and to stifle freedom of thought” in Florida classrooms, said Union President Andrew Spar.
Shortly after Gov. DeSantis signed SB 256 into law, FEA filed a lawsuit to defend our freedom of speech and to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America.— Florida Education Association (@FloridaEA) May 11, 2023
Read the full Huffpost article here: https://t.co/v7r7aMxNk1 pic.twitter.com/deSBtGzSNG