Blogger jailed for shielding 'unpublished material'

A freelance writer who is accused of possessing a video tape that allegedly shows rioters destroying a police vehicle in the United States has been jailed for refusing to give up the footage.

Josh Wolf will spend a minimum of 11 months in prison after he told a San Francisco judge he will not overturn the film, despite investigators’ insistence it shows a police car being firebombed.

The 24-year-old internet blogger rejected the claims, but also refused to testify before a grand jury about the other alleged crimes of the protestors - earning him a stay in prison without bail.

He is being detained at a federal institution in California until the grand jury either expires in July 2007, or, he decides to release the film, which has already been posted on his blog, The Revolution Will Be Televised.

Media freedom groups have condemned his harsh treatment, saying the verdict of Judge William Alsup contravenes both the First Amendment and the American Convention on Human Rights.

“Sending this journalist to prison for protecting his material is both a serious violation of press freedom and a negation of the US constitution’s First Amendment,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

“Wolf’s absurd and disproportionate imprisonment violates the American Convention on Human Rights, which stipulates that journalists have the right not to disclose their sources. We call for his immediate release.”

But the federal court heard that the need for authorities to obtain Wolf’s full footage outweighed the protections granted to him under America’s legal system.

Although not attacking the confidentiality of sources, Judge Alsup said the state’s right to see the unedited film - recorded in June last year of G8 demonstrators clashing with police in San Francisco - was unparalleled.

Extracts of the online footage - known at its source as a video blog or vlog - have since been sold to local television stations.

But investigators want to see the unedited film because, in the words of the Judge, they have “a legitimate need” – namely the desire to pursue the perpetrator who set a police car ablaze.

As a result, Wolf was jailed for contempt of court after he refused to surrender what he called his “unpublished materials.”

Reporters Without Borders said if the state of California had tried the freelance journalist he would have had “complete protection” under law.

However Wolf’s case came before federal judicial authorities solely because a federal vehicle was set on fire – an act Wolf has criticised in a recent vlog.

“So if a City police vehicle is a federal matter, what isn’t going to be a federal matter?,” he asked. “This is one of those things that if they[ the federal government] do this, how far will they go?”

The political undertones of Wolf’s case, not to mention its consequences for other media professionals, have been echoed by media freedom and civil liberties advocates.

Joel Simon, of the Committee to Protect Journalists reflected: “While we recognise that Wolf has legal protections not available to journalists in many other parts of the world, his jailing is alarming precisely because democratic countries rarely take such a drastic step.”

Concern has also been expressed by Liz Wolf-Spada. Posting yesterday on her son’s blog, she wrote: “Josh is in Dublin federal prison, in the East Bay area of the San Francisco Bay. I don’t have any other information at this time, but his lawyer is planning to file an appeal to the federal 9th circuit court.

“That filing alone costs almost $500, so if you can donate any little bit helps with the expenses of legal counsel and money for Josh while in jail. If you believe in prayer or good thoughts please send them to Josh.”




Aug 3, 2006
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