Iowa Journalist Acquitted in Case Seen as Attack on Free Press

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An Iowa jury on Wednesday acquitted a journalist who was pepper-sprayed and arrested by police while covering a protest, in a case that critics have derided as an attack on press freedoms and an abuse of prosecutorial discretion, reports the Associated Press. After deliberating for less than two hours, the jury found Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri and her ex-boyfriend Spenser Robnett not guilty on misdemeanor charges of failure to disperse and interference with official acts. Despite the more than 100 groups that called for the dismissal of charges last summer, insisting that Sahouri was wrongly arrested while doing her job covering racial injustice protests in Des Moines last May, prosecutors aggressively pursued them, arguing that Sahouri and Robnett didn’t comply with police orders to leave the chaotic scene outside of a mall and interfered with the officer who arrested Sahouri.

Prosecutor Bradley Kinkade told jurors during his closing argument that it didn’t matter Sahouri was a working journalist, saying her profession wasn’t a defense against the charges. In fact, he argued that the video and photos she reported live on Twitter of protesters breaking store windows and throwing rocks was “convincing evidence” that she was near an unlawful assembly. If convicted on either count, Sahouri and Robnett would have faced hundreds of dollars in fines and up to 30 days in jail.

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