Anarchist journalist Josh Wolf has finally been released from a US prison, after having spent 226 days behind bars for refusing to testify to US authorities regarding an anti-G8 demonstration (organised by anarchists) in San Francisco in July, 2005.
- ‘Josh Wolf, who considers himself an anarchist and “loosely identifies” with the indybay group, spent the evening videotaping events. He said at one point, “Some sort of a scuffle broke out, which prompted a whole bunch of cops to declare martial law. They said ‘Disperse!’ and aimed laser-pointed taser guns at us — it was like something out of Star Wars.” As for why the protesters had gathered in the first place, Wolf said, “The mission is to make an affront against capitalism and empire.”‘ ~ Nanette Asimov, ‘Protest turns violent in the Mission District’, San Francisco Chronicle, July 9, 2005
Wolf has been freed after US authorities finally agreed to a compromise deal, first pitched to them in November 2006, in which Wolf agreed to release uncut footage he took of the protest, while at the same time refusing to testify before a specially-convened Grand Jury regarding the identities of those who took part.
Here’s Wolf’s statement upon his release:
“It took 226 days, but it was worth every second to get what I wanted from day one, which is that I will not have to testify before the grand jury about the events at the protest or the identities of participants. The demand for my testimony before the grand jury was the true assault on my code of ethics and, as I have stated previously, there will be, and has been no compromise to this resolute principle.
Today, I posted the video footage to my web site so that the public will have the opportunity to see that there is nothing of value in this unpublished footage. As there is no sensitive material on the tape, there was no reason to remain in prison, given the fact that I got what I wanted from day one – the right to protect journalists from having to testify before a grand jury.
Until now, I had no assurances that publishing the video would lead to my release and furthermore had every indication that it would have the opposite result and indicate to the judge that the so-called coercive effect was working. That has changed.
I do feel that my unpublished materials should be protected by a Federal Shield and moving forward, that is where I will focus my efforts. Journalists should have the right to be protected from testifying before a grand jury and I will not stop fighting until there is a law that protects us.”
See Sarah Phelan, ‘Wolf Freed!’, San Francisco Bay Guardian, April 4, 2007; ‘Freelance journalist Josh Wolf released after 224 days in prison, Reporters sans frontières, April 4, 2007; Jesse McKinley, ‘8-Month Jail Term Ends as Maker of Video Turns Over a Copy’, The New York Times, April 4, 2007; Howard Kurtz, ‘Blogger Makes Deal, Is Released From Jail’, Washington Post, April 4, 2007:
…The case sparked a First Amendment debate over whether Wolf is a journalist and whether he deserved protection for the video he shot of the 2005 protest against a G-8 summit meeting in Scotland, since he made no explicit promises of confidentiality. Wolf sold other parts of the tape to local television stations and posted those portions online. In reaching the agreement with prosecutors, Wolf backed off his original position that he would not turn over the footage.
A viewing of the video leaves unclear why Wolf fought so hard to protect it. Three protesters in hooded sweat shirts and kerchiefs partly hiding their faces are seen talking to bystanders, followed by a handful of protesters who make no effort to hide their identity. Demonstrators are seen marching with such banners as “Destroy the War Machine,” and in one case dragging newspaper boxes into the street to block traffic. At one point they surround a fallen colleague on the sidewalk, and a police officer walks over and tells everyone to stand back.
Asked if he was worried about identifying protesters, Wolf said: “I could not answer that question before the grand jury. There were various promises made, both directly and indirectly.” He declined to elaborate.
Wolf said he believed that prosecutors had him subpoenaed and ultimately jailed “to send a message to the press and public that they will stop at nothing” to compel grand jury testimony.
During the protest, San Francisco police officer Peter Shields had his skull fractured by a hooded assailant with a pipe or baseball bat. Wolf said he was 30 yards away at the time but did not see the attack because he was taping a scuffle between police and another protester.
As an alternative to testifying, Wolf answered two questions in writing. He said he did not know whom Shields was attempting to take into custody at the time he was struck. Wolf also said he did not see anyone throw or shoot anything at a police car during the demonstration, nor did he learn such information from another source. Prosecutors said they reserve the right to subpoena him again, which Garbus called a face-saving claim.
Wolf, whose mother mounted a media campaign on his behalf, used yesterday’s settlement to push for a national law protecting journalists from being forced to testify about confidential sources. More than 30 states and the District have shield laws. He said on his blog, Joshwolf.net, that the case “further reinforces the clear and present need for a federal shield law, and I am optimistic that these recent developments will help to pave the way for its passage by Congress.”
Asked how he coped with being incarcerated, Wolf said: “It was difficult at times, easier at others. You get into a routine, something breaks that routine, and you’re very sensitive to that.”
Prosecutors said in an earlier court filing that Wolf, who is not affiliated with any news outlet, was “simply a person with a video camera” and that his resistance to testifying was “apparently fueled by his anointment as a journalistic martyr.”
Was he acting as a journalist in videotaping the demonstration?
“It was journalism to the extent that I went out to capture the truth and present it to the public,” Wolf said. “It has nothing to do with whether or not I’m employed by a corporation or I carry a press pass.”
Also AP, ‘After 226 days, freelance journalist Josh Wolf released from jail’, First Amendment Center, April 4, 2007; Bob Egelko and Jim Herron Zamora, ‘THE JOSH WOLF CASE: Blogger freed after giving video to feds’, San Francisco Chronicle, April 4, 2007.
It’s a measure of how shitful the Australian corporate/state media is that there has not been one single word published or spoken regarding Wolf’s case by it throughout his entire 8-month ordeal… and it’s only going to get worse.
There’s a small story about his release in today’s Age.