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US Journalist Arrested During Protest on Trial

FILE - Police officers are shown arresting Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri after a Black Lives Matter protest she was covering on May 31, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa, was dispersed by tear gas. (Photo courtesy Katie Akin via AP)

A court in the U.S. state of Iowa will hear arguments Tuesday on the second day of a trial of a journalist arrested while covering a Black Lives Matter protest in the city of Des Moines last May.

Andrea Sahouri, a reporter for The Des Moines Register, was pepper-sprayed and briefly detained after police and protesters clashed during the protest over the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At the time, Sahouri was with her then-boyfriend, Spenser Robnett, who faces the same charges of failure to disperse and interference with official acts.

A defense lawyer told jurors Monday that Sahouri was wrongly arrested while doing her job as a journalist.

During the May 31 protest, some protesters threw water bottles and rocks at police. Some also broke store windows and vandalized a retail store.

Officer Luke Wilson said Monday that Sahouri did not leave the area when he repeatedly used tear gas to disperse the crowd, and that he did not know she was a reporter.

If convicted, Sahouri could face a $600 fine and up to 30 days in jail on each charge, although the Associated Press reported such jail time would be unusual.

The case has attracted the attention of human rights and press freedom advocates, journalism schools and media companies who have asked authorities to drop the charges because, they say, Sahouri was just performing the work of a reporter.

"That this trial is happening at all is a violation of free press rights and a miscarriage of justice," The Des Moines Register's editorial board wrote in an editorial.

Officials have maintained that journalists do not have the right to ignore dispersal orders from police, adding that a similar order had been given 90 minutes earlier.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which tracks “press freedom violations,” said it was unaware of a trial of a working journalist in the United States since 2018.

The group said more than 125 reporters were detained during the nationwide civil unrest in 2020. Of those, 13, including Sahouri, still could face prosecution.