Supporters of free speech have been condemning the arrest and attempted prosecution of media mebers covering the oil pipeline protests in North Dakota.
Hundreds of people have traveled to North Dakota in recent months to protest the construction of the $3.8-billion, 1,200-mile Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as the climate change impact of other pipelines.
But the protests have also attracted the attention of journalists – among them Democracy Now broadcaster Amy Goodman, who took footage of the Standing Rock Sioux community's protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which they say threatens their water supply.
Things came to a head when protesters and private security officers clashed on Labor Day weekend, and Goodman was among those charged after taking video of the clashes. The footage has since been viewed by more than 14 million people.
Goodman was charged by the Morton County Attorney's Office first with criminal trespass, as detailed in this criminal complaint. Then the charge was changed to participating in a riot.
On Monday, the Star Tribune reports the charge against Goodman was dismissed by a judge, who found no cause for it.
An 'affront' to free press
Nonetheless, the pursuit of charges against a reporter carrying out her journalistic duties has been condemned by freedom of the press activists around the world, among them Edward Snowden.
A Washington Post columnist described Goodman's treatment as "an affront to both the free press and the right to protest," and was critical of comments McClean County Attorney Ladd Erickson – who is assisting Morton County with the protests – made in the Bismarck Tribune.
Erickson said Goodman "put together a piece to influence the world on her agenda, basically," before adding: "That’s fine, but it doesn’t immunize her from the laws of her state," the Bismarck Tribune reports.
WaPo columnist Radley Balko takes issue with this statement, saying: "There’s no 'advocacy exception' to the First Amendment’s free-press protections. In fact, at the time the First Amendment was written and passed, there was no ideal of an 'objective' press. All press was advocacy press."
Goodman had this to say on Facebook this week:
"I wasn’t trespassing. I wasn’t rioting. The ‘Democracy Now’ team and I were there to report, to document what was happening on the ground. These charges are simply a threat to all journalists around the country: Do not come to North Dakota."
Filmmaker and actress recently arrested
Goodman's warning proved apt for documentary maker Deia Schlosberg and Hollywood actress Shailene Woodley, both of whom found themselves arrested for their role in protests.
Schlosberg was detained while filming a Climate Direct Action protest against TransCanada's Keystone Pipeline in Walhalla, North Dakota last Tuesday, which the Huffington Post reports successfully shut down the pipeline for about seven hours.
She has since been released by police, but her camera equipment – including the footage of the protest – was confiscated by authorities and she still faces three charges of felony conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison between them.
Reuters reports that celebrities including music legend Neil Young, as well as actors Mark Ruffalo and Daryl Hannah, have been among those calling for the charges against her to be dropped.
Shailene Woodley, star of The Descendants and Divergent, was also arrested earlier this month at the scene of a Dakota Access Pipeline protest as she broadcast footage of the protest on Facebook, the BBC reports.
"Journalism, especially documentary filmmaking, is not a crime, it's a responsibility. The freedom of the press is a fundamental right in our free society. The charges filed against her are an injustice that must be dropped immediately," director Josh Fox, who works with Schlosberg, wrote in a letter to President Obama.
But arrests are still threatened
Back in Morton County, the Bismarck Tribune notes prosecutors could still pursue other charges against Goodman, and the local sheriff's office has said it will continue to police the protests, warning those taking part that they face action for trespassing on private land
"Ongoing protests continue to violate the rights of our citizens and raise public safety concerns,” said Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier on Facebook. "They want to conduct commerce and feel safe while traveling on our local roadways. Overall public safety is my number one priority."
After charges against Goodman were dismissed, Kirchmeier said: "Let me make this perfectly clear, if you trespass on private property, you will be arrested."