Coalition demands authorities drop prosecution of Oregon journalist

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Portland Police Bureau officers preparing to advance on protesters at Portland State University on May 2, 2024. Photo courtesy of Alissa Azar.


A coalition of press freedom groups sent a letter to Oregon’s Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, demanding that he drop a criminal trespass charge against Portland photojournalist Alissa Azar.

Azar was covering a pro-Palestinian protest at Portland State University on May 2, 2024, when officers shoved her to the ground and arrested her, despite her press credentials from the National Press Photographers Association. The initial hearing is scheduled for this Friday, June 7.

Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) Director of Advocacy Seth Stern said:

Alissa Azar did nothing wrong on May 2. She was simply documenting a public demonstration, as she is entitled to under the Constitution.

District Attorney Schmidt and other prosecutors nationwide must cease senseless prosecutions against journalists who are simply doing their job. With the upcoming presidential elections and ongoing protests over the Israel-Gaza war, the stakes are high and there has never been a more important time for reporters to be able to freely cover protests and police. Journalists need support and protection from local police — not violence and unwarranted arrests.

Azar’s arrest and subsequent prosecution come amid unprecedented waves of arrests of journalists around the globe, especially when documenting law enforcement. It’s also part of a recent spike of arrests of U.S. journalists covering protests over the Israel-Gaza war, which is particularly unnerving just a few years after the alarming press freedom abuses at protests in response to George Floyd’s murder and other civil unrest in 2020.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Oregon, has made clear that the First Amendment protects journalists covering protests and their aftermath. Reporters play a vital role as watchdogs in ensuring that law enforcement is held accountable in the performance of its duties. Just a few hours from Portland, criminal trespass charges were dropped against a journalist who was arrested while documenting police officers clearing out a homeless encampment in Medford, Oregon. The journalist is now suing the city after the arrest violated her First and Fourth amendment rights by forcibly removing her from the scene.

FPF’s Stern said:

Journalists must be able to remain on the scene and continue the newsgathering process after police disperse demonstrators, without fear of arrest and prosecution. The public is entitled to information about how police behave at protests, especially because, without scrutiny, police are more likely to violate people’s civil rights.

The letter urges the DA’s office to consider the dangerous precedent this prosecution will set for journalists’ right to record police and the public’s access to information. It demands that the DA ensure that journalists are safe to do their jobs without risking arrest by not only dropping the charges against Azar but by continuing to promptly drop similar charges for any journalist who is wrongfully arrested at protests. And police departments in Oregon and everywhere else need to stop arresting journalists in the first place.

In addition to FPF, the letter was signed by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the National Press Photographers Association, among others.

Read the full letter here.

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