Reporters Without Borders voiced relief on learning of the release yesterday of freelance journalist and blogger Josh Wolf, who had been held for 224 days in California in a case involving source confidentiality. A second attempt at judicial mediation by federal Judge Joseph Spero with Wolf and his lawyers concluded successfully after two days. Wolf yesterday posted all of the video files requested by Judge William Alsup on his website and promised to hand them over after obtaining the prosecutor’s assurance that he will not be compelled to testify before a federal court.
Reporters Without Borders welcomes Wolf’s release with great satisfaction. The press freedom organization had described his imprisonment as "judicial persecution" of a journalist who had a legitimate right to protect his sources.
“Wolf’s release is obviously excellent news, because it puts an end to a flagrant injustice,” Reporters Without Borders said. “However, this is only a half-victory. The federal court has clearly abandoned the idea of making Wolf testify and name his sources, but he has nonetheless been forced to disclose unpublished material.”
Reporters Without Borders would like to salute the courage of this young freelancer, who spent more time in prison that any other journalist in the history of the United States in order to protect his sources.
"Josh gave up his freedom for 224 days because he believes that a free and independent press cannot exist without a trusting relationship between a journalist and his information source,” the organisation said. "The attacks on source confidentiality have been multiplying over the last few years, thereby jeopardizing the right of Americans to be fully informed. Too many journalists have spent time in prison, or have been threatened with being sent there. It is the duty of the US congress to adopt, as soon as possible, a federal shield law that will acknowledge the right of journalists to protect their sources."
The case goes back to 2005, when Wolf filmed a protest in San Francisco against a G8 summit. After refusing to comply with a federal subpoena to hand over his unedited video and testify to a grand jury investigation into an attack on a police car during the demonstration, he was found in contempt of court and was initially imprisoned from 1 August to 1 September 2006. He was sent back to Dublin prison, near San Francisco, on 20 September after judges rejected an appeal. In all, he spent 224 days in prison.
Alsup, the federal judge who imprisoned Wolf, finally ordered judicial mediation on 14 February and assigned the job to Judge Spero.
The right of journalists to professional confidentiality is recognized by 33 states of the union. The house of representatives of the northwestern state of Washington unanimously passed a “shield law” of this nature on 16 February. Other shield laws are being debated by the states of Missouri, Utah, Massachusetts and Texas.