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WASHINGTON — On Friday, Free Press delivered a letter with more than 75,000 signatures to Attorney General Eric Holder, urging the Department of Justice to end the harassment and intimidation of journalists, specifically at U.S. borders.

The letter follows the six-hour detainment in September of WNYC producer Sarah Abdurrahman and her family at Niagara Falls, along with the repeated detainment of documentary filmmaker and journalist Laura Poitras. Many other incidents of this kind have been documented. And those who have avoided such intrusions, like the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story of the NSA's spying programs, fear similar repercussions for their reporting.

“As the nation’s chief law enforcement officer,” the Free Press letter states, “[Holder] must guarantee that the United States government will protect press freedom at all times and in all places.

“U.S. journalists who have exercised their First Amendment rights around the world should be welcomed home, not harassed and detained. As it did with its internal guidelines, the Department of Justice should move swiftly to clarify the rights of journalists and U.S. residents at our nation’s borders.”

(The full text of the letter follows below.)

This week, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson sent a letter to Holder expressing similar concerns about journalist harassment and intimidation at U.S. borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists released a groundbreaking report on the Obama administration's troubled relationship with the press. In Sept., actor, filmmaker and Freedom of the Press Foundation board member John Cusack was the first to ask Holder, in the Guardian, to protect press freedom and "guarantee the safe return and safe passage of journalists who have exercised their rights under the first amendment." 

Free Press Journalism and Public Media Campaign Director Josh Stearns made the following statement:

“The United States faces a mounting press freedom crisis. Journalists must be able to report freely wherever the story takes them. It is unconscionable that American journalists are afraid to return home for fear of their own safety and the security of their work.

"Our government's leak investigations are chilling reporting and in some cases criminalizing basic newsgathering practices. The United States has a constitutional duty to protect freedom of the press and shouldn’t be in the business of harassment or intimidation.

"During this poorly covered government shutdown, and a time of momentous debate on domestic and international issues, we need a robust fourth estate to hold our leaders accountable and shine a light on our political system. Journalists must be truly free to do that work.”

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October 11, 2013

Attorney General Eric Holder

U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Mr. Holder:

I write to you today, along with tens of thousands of Free Press members, to call on you to protect freedom of the press and our freedom to travel without fear of unwarranted interference. This week the Committee to Protect Journalists released a groundbreaking report on the Obama administration's troubled relationship with the press. The report shows that while the Department of Justice has taken some steps toward protecting the newsgathering process, there is still much work to be done.

Today we are delivering 77,996 petition signatures calling on you and the Obama administration to end the harassment and intimidation of journalists.

We’re particularly concerned about recent actions by United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that have raised serious questions about press freedom and individual rights at U.S. borders.

Last month, CBP detained WNYC producer Sarah Abdurrahman and her friends and family for six hours at Niagara Falls. CBP has detained and searched documentary filmmaker and journalist Laura Poitras more than 40 times while she’s tried to enter the U.S. And both Poitras and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, U.S. citizens who have led the reporting on recent NSA revelations, worry that their safety and security would be compromised if they returned to the U.S.

As the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, you must guarantee that the United States government will protect press freedom at all times and in all places.

U.S. journalists who have exercised their First Amendment rights around the world should be welcomed home, not harassed and detained. As it did with its internal guidelines, the Department of Justice should move swiftly to clarify the rights of journalists and U.S. residents at our nation’s borders.

Respectfully,

______/s/__________

Josh Stearns
Journalism and Public Media Campaign Director
Free Press
 

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