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Press freedom? Police target media, arrest and teargas reporters at Ferguson protests

Published time: August 14, 2014 08:04
Edited time: August 14, 2014 17:05
An Al Jazeera television crew, covering demonstrators protesting the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, scramble for cover as police fire tear gas into their reporting position on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. (AFP Photo / Getty Images / Scott Olson)

An Al Jazeera television crew, covering demonstrators protesting the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, scramble for cover as police fire tear gas into their reporting position on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. (AFP Photo / Getty Images / Scott Olson)

Two reporters were detained at the Ferguson protests, and police behaved as “soldiers” with the “enemy combatants,” journalists said. Outrage over the incident spilled into both the media and social networks.

Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post told AP they were working in a fast-food restaurant when Special Forces entered the premises and started clearing them out. Reilly tried to take a photo, and police demanded his ID, which he lawfully declined to provide. The officers detained him regardless, according to Huffington Post official statement, “for not packing up fast enough.”

The Al Jazeera- America crew was also attacked and tear-gassed by security forces as they tried to film the protest. The team had thought they had reached a safe area when they were tear-gassed, said Al Jazeera's Ash-Har Quraishi.

"The Al Jazeera crew were in a place we believed to be safe," he said. "Soon afterwards people started running toward us, saying they were being fired on with rubber bullets. Rubber bullets were fired on us, and then a canister. We had to retreat into the neighborhood."

"Al Jazeera is stunned by this egregious assault on freedom of the press that was clearly intended to have a chilling effect on our ability to cover this important story," the network said in a statement.

Also in the statement, Huffington Post noted that according to Reilly, who reported from the notorious Guantanamo Bay military facility, “police resembled soldiers more than officers,” and treated those inside the fast-food restaurant as “enemy combatants.”

All in all, Huffington Post condemned “the false arrest and the militant aggression towards the journalists,” saying that police militarization has become “among the most consequential and unnoticed development of our time, and is beginning to affect press freedom.

The Washington Post also called the arrest “illegal” and an “assault on the freedom of the press to cover the news.”

Apart from Reilly and Lowery, a citizen journalist known under the nickname Antonio French has been jailed for 24 hours, charged with unlawful assembly.

Protesters were outside the local police department demanding his release, according to witnesses. Five of them have been arrested.

Missouri governor Jay Nixon has urged law enforcement to respect the rights of residents and journalists.

On Thursday, US President Barack Obama condemned police treatment of journalists covering the protests in Ferguson during a speech in Edgartown, Massachusetts.

On Wednesday, protests in Ferguson turned violent, with police cracking down on the crowd with smoke bombs and tear gas, while the demonstrators responded by throwing Molotov cocktails and other objects at police, AP reported.

"I've had enough of being pushed around because of the color of my skin. I'm sick of this police brutality," an 18-year-old protester named Terrell told Reuters.

"I'm going to keep coming back here night after night until we get justice," he added.

Protests have been going on for several days, beginning over the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen by a white policeman.

About 40 demonstrators have been arrested over the last four days.

There are calls on social networks for a protest in New York, Atlanta and other US cities.

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