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Des Moines Register reporter’s trial over protest coverage begins today

Police officers are shown arresting Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri after a Black Lives Matter protest she was covering on May 31, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa, was dispersed by tear gas. Sahouri is set to stand trial on Monday, March 8, 2021, on misdemeanor charges, a case that prosecutors have pursued despite international condemnation from advocates for press freedom. (Photo courtesy Katie Akin via AP)

DES MOINES — A Des Moines journalist is going on trial today on charges related to her coverage of a racial justice protest last spring.

Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri was pepper-sprayed by police and arrested on May 31 at Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines. Carlos Martinez de la Serna, program director at the Committee to Protect Journalists, says 126 journalists were detained during protests in the U.S. last year and, while most were not charged or had charges dismissed, Sahour is among about a dozen who still face charges.

“There needs to be an investigation around these cases on who is responsible, why journalists were arrested, were detained, were harassed,” he said. “Is there a racial component here?”

Prosecutors say Sahouri was not dressed like a reporter or wearing press credentials. Sahouri is charged with failure to disperse and interference with official acts. The Committee to Protect Journalists argues these charges could create a chilling effect on journalists doing their jobs.

“So, local authorities, local law enforcement need to the opposite. They need create an environment where journalists can do their jobs and bring the news to the public,” Martinez de le Serna said, “which is the opposite of what’s currently happening here.”

Other professional organizations representing journalists have denounced the Polk County Attorney for prosecuting Sahouri. At a pre-trial hearing on Friday, prosecutor Bradley Kinkade argued that Sahouri’s employment as a reporter is irrelevant to her misdemeanor charges. The Iowa Freedom of Information Council’s executive director Randy Evans has called Sahouri’s arrest is a “profound and clear violation” of the First Amendment.

Evans said Sahouri was engaged in “lawful newsgathering activity” when she was arrested.

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