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United States15 September 2006

Prosecutors try to send Josh Wolf back to prison

Reporters Without Borders today condemned a motion filed by US federal prosecutors yesterday calling for the rescinding of a decision to release San Francisco-based video journalist and blogger Josh Wolf on bail pending the outcome of his appeal. If the motion is accepted, Wolf would return to prison until the appeal court issues a ruling on his case in November.

“We do not understand why prosecutors are hounding this innocent journalist,” the press freedom organisation said. “It is vital that the appeal court that decided to release Wolf should not go back on that decision. He already spent a month in prison just for resisting a subpoena and for protecting his material and sources. Sending him back to prison would be another press freedom violation.”

Wolf’s lawyer, Jose Luis Fuentes, accused prosecutors of using a roundabout means to make a national example out of him, filing a motion with judges who clearly opposed his release rather than with those who were in favour from the start. “This is purely and simply punitive,” he told Reporters Without Borders. “He already spent a month in custody without giving in, so coercion did not work.”

Wolf was released on bail on 31 August after spending a month in prison. He was sent there after being found in contempt of court for refusing to surrender the outtakes of the film of an anti-globalization protest that he posted on his blog. He appeared at an appeal court hearing on 7 September.


1.09.06 - Appeal court frees Josh Wolf on bail

Reporters Without Borders today hailed a federal appeal court’s decision yesterday to release journalist and blogger Josh Wolf on bail while it hears his appeal against a contempt of court ruling under which he had been imprisoned since 1 August for refusing to turn over his video files to the police. The organisation hopes the appeal court will find in his favour.

“It was doubly absurd that Wolf spent a month in prison,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Firstly, he did nothing to justify being jailed. Secondly, he never showed the least sign of becoming a fugitive from justice. We hope the appeal court will now uphold his right to hold on to his files and and that its ruling will recognise that the press must be independent in a democracy, something the courts and government have tended to question.”


31.08.06 - Call for journalist and blogger Josh Wolf to be freed after a month in jail

Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its call for the release of young freelance journalist Josh Wolf when his case comes before a federal appeal court. Wolf has been in prison since August 1 after being held in contempt of court for refusing to surrender video footage to the police (see July 31 and August 2 press releases ). The press freedom organization also urged the federal courts not to jail Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada of the San Francisco Chronicle daily, who were ordered on August 15 to name their sources for a report on doping.

“Both the Wolf and San Francisco Chronicle cases have absolutely no bearing on national security, the argument used in other tussles between federal courts and journalists who refused to name their sources or surrender their files,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It just does not hold up here.”

The press freedom organization continued: “Confirmed contempt of court orders against Wolf, Williams and Fainaru-Wada would mean that the independence of the press - which is based among other things on the right to professional secrecy - is more than even in danger in the United States. They would also directly violate article 8 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which the United States has signed.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “Keeping Wolf in prison would be tantamount to denying the role that the press is supposed to play in a democracy, one of questioning and criticising. Congress must quickly debate and approve a federal shield law that would uphold the right of journalists to protect the confidentiality of their sources.” The Free Flow of Information Act was introduced in May 2006 by Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Charles Schumer (D-NY). A similar version was introduced by Representatives Pence (R-IN) and Boucher (D-VA) in the House in July 2005.

Wolf’s case goes back to July 2005, when he filmed a protest in San Francisco against a G8 summit taking place in Scotland. A police car was damaged during a clash between protesters and police. A cable TV station aired the film of the protest that Wolf had posted on his blog. It was then picked up by local affiliates of the national networks. Although Wolf has always denied having footage of the damaged car, a federal judge ordered him to hand over all of his unedited footage to a grand jury investigation.

Wolf refused on the basis of his rights under the US constitution’s First Amendment and a California shield law that allows journalists to refuse to name sources or surrender unpublished material and notes. Similar laws exist in 32 other states but not yet at the federal level.

Because of Josh’s refusal, a federal judge held him in contempt of court on August 1. Denied bail, he was taken immediately to a federal prison in Dublin, California. A federal appeal court is due to rule very soon on his request for release and, very likely, on the substance of the case as well. If it rules against him, he could remain in prison until he agrees to hand over his footage or until the grand jury’s term expires in July 2007.

In a message to Reporters Without Borders, Wolf’s mother, Liz Wolf-Spada, wrote today: “Josh said that I taught him to stand up for what is right. I taught him about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement of the 60s. I didn’t ever think that standing up for his beliefs in this way would cause him to be imprisoned. I am proud of him for his courage and of course, very concerned about him being in jail and hoping that he will be released soon.”

Wolf faces the possibility of having to pay $ 30,000 in legal fees. [To contribute to his legal fund, go to his blog: http://www.joshwolf.net/blog/]

Williams and Fainaru-Wada of the San Francisco Chronicle are subject to contempt of court proceedings for their reporting in 2004 that disclosed confidential grand jury testimony. They revealed details of the investigation into performance-enhancing drugs allegedly supplied to prominent athletes by the San Francisco company Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO).

Federal judicial officials have been trying to get them to name the sources of the leaks, but they have refused on First Amendment grounds. Federal district judge Jeffrey White rejected their arguments in a ruling on August 15 which could lead to their imprisonment if they continue to refuse. The ruling is to be appealed.


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