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Wolf becomes longest incarcerated journalist
in U.S. History - 171 days and counting...

Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Nevena Predolac

February 9, 2007

Josh Wolf became the longest incarcerated journalist in U.S. history Tuesday after spending his 168th day locked up in federal prison. A noon rally was held on the steps of City Hall to draw attention to Wolf's detention and to call for his immediate release.

U.S. Judge William Alsup incarcerated Wolf August 1, 2006 for refusing to turn over unpublished segments of videotape footage of a San Francisco G-8 demonstration turned melee in 2005 to a federal grand jury.

Wolf refused to hand over unpublished footage to federal investigators and was found in contempt by Alsup and subsequently jailed, despite Wolf's offer to Alsup to review the footage in camera.

As a journalist Wolf has asserted he has a 1st amendment right to withhold unpublished footage. California shield law protects journalists' unpublished material, as well as confidential sources, from any compelled disclosure by judicial processes, but such protections are not available in federal law.

Wolf has said he believes the Bush administration is attempting to use Wolf's footage to identify, persecute and prosecute Bush policy dissenters.

Julian Davis of the Free Josh Wolf Coalition facilitated the protest with a number of organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union; the Society of Professional Journalists; the National Lawyer's Guild, and Reporters without Borders.

"We are calling on federal prosecutors to stop prosecuting journalists and attempts to use them as investigative agents of law enforcement, " Davis said.

Julian Davis, Free Josh Wolf Coalition

Following Wolf's detention San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi authored a resolution calling on federal authorities to respect California's Shield Law.

"In August when we authored and passed the resolution of a high majority of the Board of Supervisors, asking for the freeing of Josh Wolf and asking for the respect of the California Shield Law and encouraging for the emboldenment of a federal shield law itself. Our Mayor did not sign that resolution," Mirkarimi reported.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi

Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Jake McGoldrick were present to show support for Wolf and his immediate release.

Journalist Richard Knee, Police Commissioner David Campos, Supervisors Tom Ammiano, Ross Mirkarimi and Jake McGoldrick

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) honored Wolf as their journalist of the year "for upholding the principles of free and independent press," said SPJ Vice-President Pueng Vongs.

"Mr. Wolf's personal sacrifice and a sacrifice that other journalists will face ensure that the public continues to receive information, unfiltered by their government", Vongs said.

Vongs called on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to help bring an end to Wolf's incarceration.

In the midst of his client's record-breaking imprisonment, Wolf's attorney David Green said Wolf's compliance with the federal government would betray the spirit of the 1st amendment.

"Even if you believe that Josh should have went to jail, should have complied with the subpoena…there must be some limit to the amount you spend in jail.

"It's been 168 days, surely any message that government wanted to send about the importance of complying with the subpoena has been said. It's done, let him out," Green said.

Attorney David Green

Free Josh Wolf Coalition member Andy Blue read the following statement from Wolf:

It was over six months ago that I found myself led out of a courtroom bound in handcuffs and shackles and taken to a Federal Prison in Dublin. As of today I've spent over 168 days in here and given Judge Alsup's recent ruling it doesn't seem likely that I'll be getting out any time soon.

I never thought this would happen. I grew up being taught that the United States was the greatest country on earth. That dissent was not only permitted but encouraged, and that we had a free press that was not encumbered by government interference. This is so longer the case. One night I went to sleep in a free America, but I woke up in a police state. It's hard to say when this transformation transpired. Many would contend that it began shortly after September 11th, some would argue that it wasn't until lies led us into the War in Iraq, and still others would say we started down this road soon after the American Revolution. I'm not sure who is right, but I do know that the process of waking up to this grim reality has been a painful one.

Many have asked me why I've chosen to sacrifice my personal freedom, and there are a multitude of reasons why I have taken the stance that I have. Most pressing is the fact that a free press in a democracy cannot act as an extension of the justice department. This can be summed up nicely with the words of Amy Goodman who recently stated, "We're supposed to be the fourth estate not for the State."

If the U.S. Attorney can compel journalists to testify about what they've learned through their work and to force them to turn over their unpublished materials then not only will the public be unable to trust reporters, but journalists themselves will become de facto deputies and investigators - a role few of us want and one that I have refused to accept. This is not a new construct, it is one that dates back to the founding of our country and is one that is guaranteed under the First Amendment of our Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson once stated, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter." And with these words, I must wonder exactly how he'd feel about the people who took to the streets on July 8th, 2005 in protest of a government they feel no longer represents them and how he'd feel about the media that covers their struggle.

The second reason compelling me to refuse to cooperate with the Grand Jury subpoena is that this whole thing is not about what the government would have you believe it to be. This case is not about a videotape, it's not about identifying suspects of a crime and it's not about obtaining justice.

If it were, then the U.S. Attorney would not have argued against the judge reviewing my outtakes in his chambers and the U.S. Attorney would have been more receptive to the inquires my defense team made.

No, this case is not about a videotape and it's not about justice. This entire matter is about eroding the rights of privacy and those of a free press. It is about identifying civil dissidents and using members of the news media to actively assist in what is essentially an anarchist witch hunt.

This is what I have suspected from the beginning, but it has been brought closer into focus with the government's recent response to our motion. I will not allow myself to be put in a position of outing anarchists who likely are guilty of nothing more that possessing political beliefs outside the American norm.

How many of the freedoms promised to us in the Bill of Rights are still intact? How many more liberties will be eroded away? The future is uncertain, but at present the military continues to wage war in Iraq in the name of freedom. I don't know whether to laugh or cry at the tragic irony of it all.

The role of the media is to ask the questions, to point at those inconsistencies, and to demand answers from the powers that be. This is why the media is under attack and this is why it is so urgent that we continue to fight back.

Because without a free press we can never be free.

And I'll conclude with the word of Mario Savio that defined the Free Speech Movement some 40 years ago and still possesses a tremendous vitality today.

On December 2, 1964, in the city of Berkeley, Savio stated, "There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part, you can't even tacitly take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all."

Thank you, and I look forward to returning back to San Francisco just as soon as the government comes to its senses and realizes that I will not- that I cannot be coerced.

Josh Wolf

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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