At least six journalists were charged with felony rioting while covering the violent protests that took place near President Trump’s inauguration parade on Friday, according to police reports and court documents, the New York Times reports. The journalists were among 230 people detained in the anti-Trump demonstrations, during which protesters smashed the glass of commercial buildings and set a limousine on fire. The charges against journalists Evan Engel, Alexander Rubinstein, Jack Keller, Matthew Hopard, Shay Horse, and Aaron Cantu have been denounced by organizations dedicated to press freedom. They denied participating in the violence.
“These felony charges are bizarre and essentially unheard of when it comes to journalists here in America who were simply doing their job,” said Suzanne Nossel of Pen America. “They weren’t even in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were in the right place.” Carlos Lauria of the Committee to Protect Journalists called the charges “completely inappropriate and excessive,” and the organization has asked that they be dropped immediately. “Our concern is that these arrests could send a chilling message to journalists that cover future protests,” he added. The Metropolitan Police Department in Washington declined to comment on why the journalists had been charged along with protesters. Jeffrey Light, a Washington lawyer, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of 51 plaintiffs arrested that day. The suit accuses the police of surrounding and arresting “not only protesters who had engaged in no criminal conduct, but also members of the media, attorneys, legal observers, and medics.”