Felony charges against Austin journalist are authoritarian bullying

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Authorities should immediately drop all charges against Carlos Sanchez, the photojournalist arrested last week while covering a pro-Palestine protest at the University of Texas at Austin. Sanchez has reportedly been charged with assault on a peace officer, a second-degree felony.

“Violently arresting journalists and then charging them with felonies is unacceptable, authoritarian bullying,” said Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) Director of Advocacy Seth Stern. “It’s doubly bad when police were there to shut down free speech in the first place.”

Contrary to the police affidavit in support of the arrest, video of the incident does not show Sanchez intentionally hitting an officer with his camera, and there is no reason why a local television journalist, who was there to cover the protests, not participate in them, would strike an officer.

That’s likely why Sanchez was initially only hit with a trespassing charge (which was dropped) before officers tacked on the ridiculous assault charge.

“Even after law enforcement assaults of journalists covering protests in 2020 resulted in millions in settlement payments, many officers clearly haven’t learned their lesson,” Stern added.

“As even the U.S. Department of Justice has acknowledged, protests are newsworthy, and journalists need to be allowed to cover them and their aftermath, even when protesters are dispersed,” Stern said.

“It’s important to keep in mind that none of this would have happened if American universities weren’t inviting militarized police forces onto campuses to break up student protests,” he added. “The police response to the protests — against journalists and students alike — has been far more violent than the protests ever were.”

Authorities should drop the charges and apologize to Sanchez. Those involved in this needless assault on press freedom need to be held accountable.

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