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WASHINGTON — On Monday evening, lawyers for journalists Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan J. Reilly of The Huffington Post urged the St. Louis County court to dismiss charges that the reporters trespassed and interfered with a police officer. The two journalists were among the many people documenting police activity during the Ferguson demonstrations in August 2014.

The charges were related to the storming by police of a local McDonald’s restaurant, which Lowery and Reilly had been using as a base for reporting on the protests. The journalists assert that local police officers roughed them up after asking them to leave the premises.

On Tuesday, Free Press delivered to the counselor’s office a petition signed by more than 21,000 people demanding that prosecutors drop the charges, stop harassing the press and safeguard the rights of everyone who commits acts of journalism.

“Journalism isn’t a crime, and no reporter or individual should be prosecuted for performing acts of journalism and documenting police activity,” said Mike Rispoli, director of Free Press’ press freedom campaign. “The sole purpose of these charges is to intimidate journalists and protesters. Free Press and 21,000 of our members demand that these outrageous charges be dropped.”

The NewsGuild-CWA, which represents more than 25,000 journalists, agrees. “This case is wrong and troubling for so many reasons,” TNG-CWA President Bernie Lunzer said. “It’s clear to me that these reporters were not interfering with police and did nothing wrong. That they were arrested at all, and, a year later, are formally charged, is an assault on the First Amendment and the public’s right to know. It feels very much like a case of people in power abusing their authority to punish the media, the messengers. We stand with Lowery and Reilly and will continue to do everything in our power to fight for them and all journalists under attack for doing their jobs as the public’s eyes and ears.”

“In an era where many can feel barraged by information overload, true journalism carried out by practitioners well versed in the principles of responsible journalism is absolutely crucial,” said Tammy Merrett of the St. Louis Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. “Journalists are the watchdogs, a check on the positions of power in our society. More than a year after the death of Michael Brown, it’s become increasingly apparent that journalism is more important and necessary to public awareness than ever. Jailing journalists for doing their job should never be acceptable or sanctioned in our courts and our society.”

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