[Ppnews] NLG Condemns Jailing of Journalist Blogger

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Aug 3 08:48:00 EDT 2006



For Immediate Release August 2, 2006
National Lawyers Guild Condemns Jailing of Journalist Blogger

Yesterday Federal Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of 
California found 24-year-old independent journalist Joshua Wolf in 
contempt after he declined to comply with an order to turn over his 
videotape of a year-old San Francisco protest to a federal grand 
jury.  Wolf was denied bail and immediately taken into custody.  The 
National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area (NLGSF) condemns this 
attack on the independent media and activists.

"The US Attorney's Office, led by Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey 
Finigan, should be ashamed," said Carlos Villarreal, Executive 
Director of the NLGSF.  "The grand jury and prosecutors choose to 
target Mr. Wolf to get a tape that they know shows nothing of 
significance.  It is an unacceptable violation of Wolf's rights as a 
journalist and a waste of resources and tax dollars."

The National Lawyers Guild argues that (1) Judge Alsup should have 
found that the federal government had no jurisdiction in this case 
and, (2) even upon a finding of jurisdiction, Judge Alsup had the 
power to find a qualified 1st Amendment privilege in this context and 
should have weighed the very weak interest of the federal government 
in this case against the very serious Constitutional rights of Wolf 
to find in his favor.

Judge Alsup found that the federal government had jurisdiction in 
this case because, as the U.S. Attorneys argued, the San Francisco 
police car was paid for, in part, with federal funds.  And further 
that there was a possible federal crime because smoke was visible 
near a police car in portions of the released video.

"The weak connection made by the Federal government to conjure up 
jurisdiction in this matter should strongly suggest that Mr. Finigan 
and this grand jury are not concerned with legitimate law enforcement 
and are more likely interested in attacking freedom of the press and 
activists," said Villarreal.  "If the allegations that someone tried 
to set a San Francisco police vehicle on fire had any merit, there 
would be a local investigation into the matter."  In fact local 
prosecutors are pursuing charges against three activists for various 
crimes allegedly committed in the course of last year's 
protest.  None of the charges involve arson or attempted arson of a 
police vehicle.

Furthermore, case law suggests that journalists should have qualified 
immunity under these circumstances, and judges should decide whether 
free speech rights in a particular instance outweigh the needs of the 
government.  In this case, Judge Alsup dismissed the need to conduct 
a balancing test but stated that such a test would be a "slam dunk" 
for the government.  The Judge failed to grasp the far-reaching 
effects this decision might have on freedom of the press, freedom of 
speech and freedom of assembly.

"In this case we had the entire independent media and its benefits to 
a free society on one side versus a trumped up allegation by the 
federal government on the other," said Villarreal.  "If the 
government can act this way, why should activists feel comfortable 
speaking with or being photographed by journalists?  Maybe people 
should avoid political expression altogether.  Maybe sympathetic 
journalists should avoid covering controversial protests.  The 
chilling effect is exponential."

Court documents and past news articles can be found at 
<http://joshwolf.net/grandjury/>http://joshwolf.net/grandjury/
Updates on Josh's support can be found at 
<http://freejosh.pbwiki.com/>http://freejosh.pbwiki.com/


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