Category Archive: Press freedom
Rob Hornstra and writing partner Arnold van Bruggen have been working on The Sochi Project since 2007, examining the city as it prepares for the 2014 Winter Olympics. At the beginning of October 2013, Hornstra was denied a visa to return to the country in advance of a planned exhibition opening Oct. 17 at Winzavod, Russia’s premiere museum for contemporary art. Russian officials have declined to giver a reason for the visa denial, but, in an interview with RiaNovosti, Hornstra suspects it might have to do with his coverage of the volatile North Caucasus region, including the recent publication of the book The Secret History of Khava Gaisanova. The Moscow Times also has coverage. It’s unclear whether Hornstra will be allowed to enter Russia again.
As a result of the visa issues, Winzavod has just announced the cancellation of the Sochi Project exhibition, though the museum leaves open the possibility of showing the work at a later date (Winzavod press release).
UPDATE 24 October 2013: Russia has dropped piracy charges against the 30 Greenpeace activists, including photographer Denis Sinyakov. They are now charged with “hooliganism,” which seems to be similar to a charge of “disorderly conduct” in the US. Lenta has the news in Russian.
UPDATE 29 September 2013: There’s now website gathering signatures of support and money for the legal defense fund (via Yandex and Paypal) for Denis Sinyakov: FreedomDenisSinyakov.ru
Original: This week Russian security forces arrested 30 Greenpeace activists who were protesting oil drilling in the Arctic. The group, comprising people from 18 nations, used a boat to approach a drilling operation, and a few members tried to board the platform. The activists were arrested and may be charged with piracy in addition to other crimes (though Putin questions the piracy charge).
Among those arrested was freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov, a Redux contributing photographer, who now faces months in prison. Reporters Without Borders has condemned Sinyakov’s arrest and sentence, calling it an “unacceptable violation of freedom of information.” Sinyakov has worked as a photographer for Greenpeace in the past, in addition to regular assignment work for Reuters and AFP. Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy has a petition asking for the release of Sinyakov, and Greenpeace has a petition asking for the release of all the arrested activists.
In protest of Sinyakov’s arrest, major independent Russian media sites have blacked out their photos today. As seen in the screenshots above, Dozhd, Novaya Gazeta, Russian Reporter, Ekho Moskvy, Znak, Lenta, Russkaya Planeta, and others have joined the call to release the photographer.
We’ve covered the war on cameras many times before. In some cases, police harass photographers for taking pictures of police action. In other cases, photographers are reported or stopped for taking pictures of buildings and bridges in plain view (previously, and also here). In the US, it’s not illegal to take pictures of people, places, and things visible while standing on public property, but that doesn’t stop security guards and policemen from interfering with photographers using their cameras. In a security awareness poster, in fact, the Transportation Safety Administration has equated photographers with terrorists.
The ACLU has just released a slew of “Suspicious Activity Reports” (← pdf link) from the FBI’s Joint Regional Intelligence Center in Los Angeles. An NPR report about the documents’ release details the case of photographer Hal Bergman, who has been questioned both in person and over the phone multiple times by FBI agents. Bergman likes to photograph industrial scenes, and that’s enough to raise the suspicion of the federal government. In the screenshot of one of the reports above, a report describes the investigation of a pair of photographers who were photographing empty lots and streets around a manufacturing plant.
Many of the incidents and investigations contained in these “Suspicious Activity Reports” end, as above, with a line similar to “No further police action/investigation was taken.” However, the reports show that individuals are being targeted for being unfriendly, taking pictures for an art class, or buying water. It’s a waste of resources and potentially quite harmful to the people whose actions are being investigated. In a recent unrelated case, a dark-skinned man was pulled aside for additional screening by the TSA while passing through airport security. Though TSA and the NYPD cleared him after several hours of questioning, Jet Blue refused to allow him to board his plane. Sometimes having a record of being investigated, regardless of whether a crime was committed or not, is enough to make ordinary activities inconvenient or impossible.
Here are some resources to help photographers know their rights in the US:
“Ackermann’s report said Stolarik had flashed his camera in Ackermann’s face several times as police told him to stop photographing a girl’s arrest. But according to the Times, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson’s office didn’t find any photographic evidence of a flash being used, nor did any witnesses corroborate Ackermann’s report.” -Cop Who Arrested Times Photographer Faces Seven Years in Prison, New York Magazine
The last time we wrote about New York City’s war on cameras, we showed a video of a police officer stopping frequent New York Times contributing photographer Robert Stolarik while he was taking pictures of arrests at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration. Stolarik is again at the center of a story in which police overstepped their bounds in preventing the operation of a free press. On Aug. 4, 2012, the photographer was taking pictures of the start of a streetfight in the Bronx.
According to the New York Times, police ordered Stolarik to stop taking pictures of an arrest, but he identified himself as a journalist and continued photographing the scene. One officer then grabbed his camera, he asked for badge numbers and names, and the police then took his cameras and forced Stolarik to the ground. The photographer was arrested. One police officer, Michael Ackerman, later claimed that Stolarik had deliberately used his flash camera’s flash in his face, interfering with the police officers’ duties and justifying an arrest. Yesterday, though, Ackerman was indicted on three felonies and five misdemeanors, alleging that Ackerman made up the events leading to the arrest. Evidence and witness testimony now make clear that Stolarik did not use a flash that night: his camera does not have a built in flash, his pictures from the event show no use of flash, and no witnesses report seeing bright lights. At the time of the arrest, Stolarik told New York Magazine that the charges were untrue.
The officer has been suspended without pay. Stolarik’s charges have been dismissed.
(via James Estrin on Facebook)
The latest in a series of high-profile rapes in India occurred yesterday while a 22-year-old female photojournalism intern was on assignment photographing abandoned buildings for an English-language Mumbai magazine. Five men attacked the woman and her male companion, asking what they were doing in the Shakti Mills. The attackers then gang-raped the woman. The woman survived the attack but suffered both internal and external injuries. Protesters have been demonstrating and holding vigils in Mumbai after the attack. The New York Times reports that a suspect has been arrested in the case, and the Guardian says that five have been arrested.
After the December 2012 Delhi gang-rape incident, the BBC published an interesting series of articles on the epidemic of rape and treatment of women in India:
This week has seen renewed violence in Egypt, and a number of journalists covering the news have been injured or killed. On Wednesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Mick Deane, on assignment for Sky News, and Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz, an Egyptian working for Dubai newspaper XPRESS though not on assignment at the time of death, were both shot and killed. Others, including Reuters photographer Asmaa Waguih and Al-Masry Al-Youm photographer Ahmed al-Najjar, were injured while covering the violence. And yesterday, at least two more journalists were killed, and several more injured. Ahmed Abdel Gawad, reporter for the state-run Al-Akhbar newspaper, and Mosaab al-Shami, a photographer for the local Rassd News Network, were both killed while covering raids on the Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque. Several more journalists were injured. Egyptian human rights group Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression documented 31 human rights violations against local journalists on Wednesday. While these are only a few of the hundreds killed in recent days in Egypt, Wednesday was the deadliest day for journalists in Egypt since CPJ began recording journalists’ deaths in the country in 1992. Since 1992, there have been nine journalists killed in Egypt as a result of their reporting (CPJ’s Egypt page says 7 as of my writing, but their reporting updates the total to 9), eight of which have happened since the revolution in 2011, three of which happened this week.
UPDATE: Here’s one photographer’s account of being attacked by the Muslim Brotherhood. Aymann Ismail, of Animal New York, was attacked after photographer people spray painting graffiti on a church door. A crowd stole his camera, but after enlisting the help of his mother by phone, and then his cousin who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, he managed to get the camera and memory cards back.
Ag-Gag Arrest: National Geographic photographer George Steinmetz arrested for photographing Kansas feedlotJul 11, 2013 by M. Scott Brauer 2 Comments »
We’ve covered the so-called Ag-Gag bills enacted across the US to outlaw the unauthorized filming and photography of agricultural operations. NPR’s On the Media has a great primer on the recent movement to enact such legislation.
Now, freelance photographer George Steinmetz, on assignment for National Geographic (he’s done 31+ major assignments for the magazine), was arrested after taking pictures of a feedlot in Kansas while paragliding. Steinmetz and his paragliding instructor are charged with trespassing because they took off from private land without permission and because feedlot employees believe that his low altitude and circling pattern constitute trespassing in the air above the feedlot. The case raises interesting questions about how far up above physical land property ownership goes, but also may run afoul of Kansas’ 1990 Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act, an early predecessor of current Ag-Gag laws. Wikipedia has a nice overview of such laws in various states.
A spokesman for the Kansas Livestock Association told the Hutchinson [Kansas] News that Steinmetz’s activities could pose a safety risk to the food supply and reminds agricultural operators to remain vigilant in identifying and reporting similar incidents.
Over the past two or so weeks of protests in Istanbul surrounding Gezi Park and Taksim Square, we’ve seen a lot of stories and photographs. Some of the first and best pictures I saw though were by my friend Andrei Pungovschi, a photographer based in Bucharest. While he was in Istanbul he was making a series of daily posts on his blog about what he was seeing and photographing in Istanbul. I wanted to share some of his work from the past week and his responses to a few questions I had about how he was covering this difficult and fast moving story.
dvafoto: When did you arrive in Istanbul?
Pungovschi: I arrived in Istanbul on Thursday evening, last week.
Did you go specifically to cover the protests?
When I first saw the protests on TV I thought it was just a local issue in Istanbul about Gezi park and didn’t really think it was something that could get any bigger. However, the brutality of the police intervention on what was a relatively small and peaceful protest triggered a very strong reaction in Istanbul. The movement turned from an ecological issue into a political one. That’s when I decided to go.
How have things changed in the time you’ve been there, what is the atmosphere in the park and the square?
By the time I got to Istanbul the police had backed off to such an extent that you could not spot a policeman anywhere around Taksim Square. Each evening, the square was filled with people and the whole scene looked more like a festival rather than a protest. The park and the square are two different scenes. The square is the place where each day after work people from all over Istanbul come to express their protest, sing, dance, or simply watch from the sidelines. The park is a community of people who want to express their support for their mutual cause by living together in this place in spite of the authorities who want them out of there. Most people I’ve spoken to in Gezi seem determined to stay there until their demands are met.
Tuesday seems like it was the most dramatic day in the last week, what was it like to photograph?
Everything changed on Tuesday morning around 7am when the police decided to clear the square (not the park). They attacked with what seemed like excessive use of gas and water canons. People fought back with rocks and Molotov cocktails. These things tend to get chaotic and this was no exception. Photographing under these conditions is not complicated, because there is always something going on. I prefer to get close to people, so I don’t use a telephoto lens. The problem then is that you have more than your frame to worry about. Plus the gas. Unless you have a proper gas mask, there is not much you can do at close range.
How are the police and the protestors treating the media and photographers? Is it difficult to work?
The police ignored us for the most part, which was good. I wish I could say the same about the protesters. They seem to be very discontent with their own media, so they would often throw rocks at groups of photographers and cameramen. Once you get close to them and get a chance to explain who you are and what you do, things get easier. The other problem I encountered was the way the police used the gas. The gas projectiles are supposed to be shot upwards at a 45 angle degree. More often than not, they would shoot horizontally, actually taking aim at protesters. A guy was shot in the face a few meters away from me while trying to throw a rock.
Overall, I can’t say it was particularly difficult to photograph. It’s not war photography. Common sense rules that apply everywhere apply here as well. With a little bit of luck and a lot of caution, you can get your job done.
Conflict reporting is a dangerous undertaking increasingly dominated by the work of freelance journalists (as high as 80% of journalists working in Syria are freelancers), most of whom lack the legal, financial, and security resources of large news organizations while working in risky environments. Vaughan Smith, of London’s Frontline Club, and a group of freelance photographers and other journalists have organized the Frontline Freelance Register to address the issue of freelancers putting themselves at risk without the institutional backing of large news organizations (two French freelancers freelancers were just abducted in Syria; James Foley has been missing for 204 days as of the writing of this post). The FFR is billed as “a representative body for freelance journalists exposed to risk while gathering news” and will work to establish and promote industry-wide safety standards and best practices for journalists working abroad in difficult and dangerous circumstances.
If you work in dangerous environments, you can apply to join the FFR here.
Related: RISC trains freelance conflict journalists to treat life-threatening injuries in the battlefield.
This week, Jennifer Pawluck, 20, was accused of criminal harassment and arrested after posting a photo (above) to Instagram. The photo shows a graffiti caricature of Montreal police Commander Ian Lafrenière, and was not painted by Pawluck. She photographed the graffiti on a building on March 26, posted it on Instagram, and was arrested at her home on April 3, nearly a week later. According to a CBC report, the police say that the reason for the arrest extends beyond just posting the photo to Instagram but give no further details. Pawluck says that she just wanted to show some well-done graffiti and did not mean for her actions to be threatening. She is scheduled to appear in court to face charges on April 17. Gawker has a bit more.