The British ambassador to the United States has launched an official complaint over the arrest of the Independent’s Chief US correspondent when covering protests in Seattle.
Karen Pierce lodged a protest with senior levels of the State Department and the White House has been informed about the arrest, shackling and detainment of the reporter Andrew Buncombe who has been accused of “failure to disperse”.
The complaint follows pressure from the Society of Editors for the UK government to call on President Trump to address the jailing of journalists.
The front page of the Independent on Saturday urged the Prime Minister to condemn the jailing of reporters in the US, citing the SoE’s concerns over the treatment of journalists by American police following a series of arrests during the Black Lives Matter protests.
John Simpson, the BBC’s world affairs editor joined press freedom groups in their condemnation of the arrest and added that he found reading the account of Buncombe’s arrest “devastating”. The BBC’s North America editor Jon Sopel said the incident was “hair-raising, disturbing and depressing”.
The account hit the headlines in Friday’s front-page splash ‘Journalism is not a crime’ where Buncombe detailed how he was arrested, shackled and assaulted in jail while reporting on the Black Lives Matter protests in Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park on July 1.
Buncombe wrote that at the time of his arrest, he had remained on the correct side of a police cordon and repeatedly identified himself as a journalist. He now faces a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The Independent has reported that the arrest of Buncombe was among at least 60 journalists arrested while covering protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in May.
Human rights organisation Amnesty International USA have added their condemnation of the arrest.
“The media have a right to attend and report on these protests, and law enforcement officials have a responsibility not to prevent or obstruct their work,” Amnesty deputy director of research Justin Mazzola told the Independent.
“If not, human rights violations like the ones we have witnessed over the past two months will breed in the darkness.”
Editor of the Independent, Christian Broughton said, “It is imperative that democratic leaders everywhere stand up unequivocally for truly independent journalism. The arrest and appalling treatment of Andrew Buncombe must be condemned.”
The statement by the SoE’s executive director Ian Murray, published in the Independent, read:
“The SoE is adamant that words are not enough. It is all well for the government to speak fine words about press freedom and the safety of journalists, but actions speak louder than words.
“Journalists need protection to carry out their vital work to defend democracy wherever they may be working. In the case of Andrew Buncombe, it is essential that the UK government makes plain that when a journalist is carrying out their profession within law that they are provided with the protection that any liberal democracy demands. To do else is to betray the communities and society that they serve.”