Reporters Without Borders condemned as “absurd inflexibility” the decision of a federal appeal court to refuse to rehear the case of Josh Wolf, in prison since 18 September for refusing to hand over his full video footage shot at a demonstration that turned violent, in July 2005.
The blogger is therefore likely to stay in custody until July 2007, when a grand jury could decide to release him on bail.
“This young blogger does not represent any threat to national security, so keeping him in custody is a completely disproportionate step,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said after the 16 November ruling.
“The judges seem to want to teach a lesson to Wolf, a young man whose insolence exasperated them, when their role should have been simply to give the law,” it added.
Josh Wolf sent back to prison in case of “judicial persecution”
Reporters Without Borders today accused the US justice system of “persecuting” freelance video journalist and blogger Josh Wolf after three appeal court judges decided on 18 September to revoke his bail and send him back to prison for refusing to hand over his unedited video footage of a demonstration to a grand jury.
Wolf had until 1 p.m. today to report to the federal prison in Dublin, California, where he was already held from 1 August to 1 September.
“We say again that the federal judicial authorities cannot invoke national security to imprison Wolf, as they have - abusively - in contempt of court proceedings against other journalists involving professional secrecy,” Reporters Without Borders said. “At no time has Wolf tried to run away since these proceedings were brought against him. The month he already spent in prison was both absurd and unjust. Sending him back is cowardly and persecutory.”
The press freedom organisation added: “Would Wolf be suffering this fate if he were not a 24-year-old freelance journalist? We doubt it. And he was given such a short deadline to return to the prison that his lawyers did not even have time to appeal against the latest ruling.”
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 clash between protesters and police led to a police car being slightly damaged. Wolf posted his film of the protest on his blog. It was also aired by cable TV station and then picked up by local affiliates of the national networks. Although Wolf always denied having footage of the attack on the police 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 Californian 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 at the federal level.
Because of his refusal, a federal judge held him in contempt of court on 1 August. Denied bail, he was immediately taken off to a Dublin prison with the intention that he could stay there until he agreed to hand over his footage or until the term of the grand jury investigation expires in July 2007.
The appeal court released Wolf on bail on 1 September at his lawyers’ request. But on 11 September, a panel formed by three of the court’s judges rejected the substance of his lawyers’ arguments and upheld the lower court’s decision to hold him in contempt. Two days later, federal prosecutors filed a motion for his bail to be revoked. It was the same three-judge panel that approved this motion on 18 September.
Wolf’s lawyers say they plan to ask the full appeal court to review the case.
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