Do You Know What Happened
To Andrea Sahouri?
Do You Know
What Happened To
Covering protests can be a risky situation for reporters, facing large crowds of people charged up with emotion.
But, sometimes, the police themselves can pose a danger to journalists, like the Iowa reporter who was pepper-sprayed, arrested and criminally charged for covering a protest honoring George Floyd, during the Summer of 2020.
Andrea Sahouri, a reporter for the Des Moines Register, was recently acquitted at trial for charges of failure to disperse and interference with official acts. The two misdemeanor charges were filed against Sahouri, and her boyfriend, following the protest she was reporting on.
In addition to being charged with criminal offenses, Sahouri was also pepper-sprayed by police. Authorities claimed she disobeyed orders to leave, and say she pulled away as she was being detained.
However, Sahouri continued to argue that she was well within her rights as a professional journalist, and that the charges against her were an attack on the First Amendment. A jury agreed with Sahouri.
Of course, the acquittal of Andrea Sahouri is a victory for journalist everywhere, whose job it is to report on these difficult moments in history.
The verdict was praised by civil liberties groups, like Amnesty International, who took it a step further to say this case is part of a growing trend of U.S. police forces, “committing widespread and egregious human rights violations.”
The ACLU of Iowa called the case an embarrassment for the county attorney’s office.
Though her courtroom win is a powerful reminder to all journalists, it didn’t come without a personal cost to Sahouri and her family. In addition to the physical distress that comes with being pepper-sprayed, Sahouri was also under an enormous amount of pressure to defend herself in court.
For nearly a year, Sahouri lived with the prospect that she may come out of this with a criminal record and legal fees. The average person can easily fall into debt just paying for a good defense attorney.
One can only image out stressful life must have been for Sahouri, being dragged in and out of court, keeping her away from work and a social life.
Journalists who are demonstrating their right to free speech, by recording historical events, shouldn’t have to face criminal charges. The prosecutor in Sahouri’s case could have chosen not to press charges, considering her job title and her employer’s confirmation that she was on duty while at the protest. But instead, the prosecutor decided to press charges, and even offered a plea deal to gain a guilty verdict.
Thankfully, Sahouri rejected the plea deal, and allowed a jury to make the ultimate decision. 💜