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Amicus Brief in Index Newspapers LLC, et al v. United States Marshals Service, et al

STATEMENT OF AMICI CURIAE PER RULE 29(a)(3)-(4)(D)-(E)

Amici Curiae, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders, submit this brief in support of Appellees’ Opposition to Appellants’ U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Marshals Service (“Federal Agents”) Motion for Stay.

Amici are non-profit organizations that work tirelessly to expose violations of freedom of expression and press freedom around the world, assist journalists, and advocate for governments to change policies that suppress freedom of expression and press freedom. Amici have an interest in the Federal Agents’ motion to stay the preliminary injunction entered by the district court. Suppression of the press, including violence against journalists, is on the rise globally, including in the United States. To uphold freedom of expression, Federal Agents should be held accountable for intimidating, beating, tear gassing, and shooting journalists and legal observers at the Portland protests. The Federal Agents’ motion for a stay seeks to eliminate safeguards against suppression of and attacks on the press. Amici have an interest in explaining how granting a stay of the preliminary injunction would undermine the United States’ commitment to freedom expression under international law with far-reaching consequences for freedom of expression and the free press worldwide.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (“CPJ”) is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide. CPJ defends the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal. CPJ is made up of about 40 experts around the world, with headquarters in New York City. CPJ’s research staff documents hundreds of attacks on the press each year. CPJ denounces press freedom violations, meets with heads of state and high-ranking officials, advises on diplomatic efforts, and works to ensure that justice prevails when journalists are imprisoned or killed.

Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) is an independent nongovernmental organization that has been dedicated to protecting human rights since 1978.  HRW conducts research and advocacy on human rights in more than 90 countries worldwide.  One focus of HRW’s work is freedom of expression and access to information.  From its earliest days, when it was called The Fund for Free Expression, HRW has fought all forms of repression of speech, in all media, around the globe.

Reporters Without Borders (“RSF”) is an independent NGO, dedicated to defending media freedom across the world. Based in Paris, RSF has a network of correspondants in 130 countries, and 12 offices worldwide.  RSF has consultative status with the United Nations, UNESCO, and the Council of Europe. RSF publishes information about media freedom worldwide, advocates for press freedom with governments, and takes direct action at the political and judicial levels to advance press freedom.  RSF also compiles the World Press Freedom Index every year, which evaluates the level of freedom available to the media in 180 countries.[1]  

  1. SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT

In response to the brutal police killing of George Floyd, millions protested in support of the movement for Black lives throughout the United States and around the world. While reporting on the Portland protests, journalists and legal observers (including Appellees) were beaten, tear gassed, and shot by Federal Agents. Dkt. 157 at 12-22.  The district court issued a preliminary injunction after finding serious questions going to the merits of Appellees’ claim that the repeated violence against individual Appellees violated their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and of the press.  Id., at 33-47. The Federal Agents now seek an emergency stay of the preliminary injunction—which would allow Federal Agents to continue to violate the First Amendment rights of Appellees and other journalists with impunity for the duration of this case.

Amici respectfully request that this Court uphold the foundational principle embodied in international human rights law and the United States Constitution:  that freedom of expression, including freedom of speech and the press, is the indispensable condition of democracy. The United States has committed since its founding to protecting these freedoms and has repeatedly asserted its commitment to guarantee freedom of expression under international law. With violence against the press on the rise, it is more important than ever that the United States hold accountable those responsible for infringing freedom of expression within its own borders. 

As Amici have seen in their organizations’ work, when governments fail to zealously guard the right to freedom of expression, democracy loses its foothold, making way for autocratic government. Amici therefore respectfully request that this Court uphold the safeguards in the preliminary injunction that the district court found were necessary to protect journalists from retaliation by Federal Agents.

  1. ARGUMENT

“Open government has been a hallmark of our democracy since our nation’s founding.”  Leigh v. Salazar, 677 F.3d 892, 897 (9th Cir. 2012).  “When wrongdoing is underway, officials have great incentive to blindfold the watchful eyes of the Fourth Estate.” Id. at 900. “The free press is the guardian of the public interest, and the independent judiciary is the guardian of the free press.” Id.

Dkt. 157 at 2 (8/20/20 Preliminary Injunction Order). This Court’s guardianship of the free press is essential, not only for vindicating Appellees’ First Amendment rights, but for guarding against the erosion of democracy. Amici urge this Court to consider and uphold the United States’ long-standing moral commitment and legal obligation to uphold freedom of expression, including freedom of speech and of the press, under the First Amendment and international law.[2]

The global community has long recognized that freedom of expression is the cornerstone of democracy. In the aftermath of World War II, the United Nations (“UN”) and its member countries sought to ensure that the horrific human rights violations of the recent past would never be repeated.[3] In 1948, the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights —which the United States played a key role in drafting —“as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” [4] Article 19 of the Declaration affirms that “[e]veryone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”[5] In 1966, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)—ratified by the United States in 1992—further guaranteed the right to freedom of expression, imposing legal obligations on states to protect freedom of expression and information. Article 19, paragraph (2) of the ICCPR provides: “[e]veryone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”[6]  The UN has also recognized the importance of extending protections to legal observers.[7]

Although the exercise of free expression “may be subject to certain restrictions, [] these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals.”[8] In this case, Appellees have detailed how the district court’s preliminary injunction appropriately ensures the Federal Agents’ ability to maintain public order would not be impacted based upon the factual record here.  See, e.g., Dkt. 157 at 55-57.

Freedom of expression is not only a fundamental human right, it is also widely understood to be foundational to other human rights and democracy itself. The Supreme Court has lauded the First Amendment freedoms of speech and the press as the “matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom.” Curtis Pub. Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130, 145 (1967) (citation and quotations omitted). According to the UN Human Rights Committee, the body charged with interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “[f]reedom of opinion and freedom of expression are indispensable conditions for the full development of the person.  They are essential for any society.  They constitute the foundation stone for every free and democratic society.”[9]

The United States, in its own efforts to foster freedom of expression internationally, routinely condemns violence against peaceful protesters and journalists reporting on those protests around the world.[10] On August 10, 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement expressing his deep concern about the recent elections in Belarus, commenting that “[s]evere restrictions on ballot access for candidates, prohibition of local independent observers at polling stations, intimidation tactics employed against opposition candidates, and the detentions of peaceful protesters and journalists marred the process.”[11] Similarly, on May 17, 2020, Secretary Pompeo defended journalists in Hong Kong: “[i]t has recently come to my attention that the Chinese government has threatened to interfere with the work of American journalists in Hong Kong. These journalists are members of a free press, not propaganda cadres, and their valuable reporting informs Chinese citizens and the world.”[12]

Organizations such as Amici have worked for decades to protect freedom of expression around the globe through advocacy, data gathering, assistance programs, and reporting on press freedom violations.  HRW, CPJ and RSF publish news releases, reports and commentary on freedom of the press, including recent news releases on the excessive use of force and detention of journalists in Belarus,[13] muzzling of journalists in Algeria and Morocco,[14] and attacks on journalists in Hong Kong.[15] CPJ releases annual reports on the number of journalists murdered, imprisoned or missing around the world.[16] RSF compiles the World Press Freedom Index, which ranks 180 countries worldwide, based on “pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.”[17]

Even before the recent Black Lives Matter protests, CPJ research “show[ed] that press freedom is under attack around the world.  The number of journalists imprisoned globally remains near record highs, and journalists are regularly harassed, and sometimes even murdered, simply for doing their jobs.”[18] Since the protests broke out on May 26, 2020, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has received reports of over 740 domestic violations of press freedom.[19]

In the midst of the on-going racial and social justice protests, the world is calling on the United States to protect freedom of expression, including press freedom.[20] In response to the international outrage sparked by the tragic killing of George Floyd, the UN Human Rights Council mandated a wide-ranging report on racial justice issues, including “the alleged use of excessive force against protesters, bystanders and journalists” in government responses to anti-racism protests.[21]

Amici respectfully request that this Court enforce the United States’ legal and moral commitment to uphold freedom of speech and the press under both the First Amendment and international law by denying the Federal Agents’ motion. The Ninth Circuit has set forth a high bar for protection of freedom of speech and of the press during protests:

Demonstrations can be expected when the government acts in highly controversial ways, or other events occur that excite or arouse the passions of the citizenry. The more controversial the occurrence, the more likely people are to demonstrate. Some of these demonstrations may become violent. The courts have held that the proper response to potential and actual violence is for the government to ensure an adequate police presence and to arrest those who actually engage in such conduct, rather than to suppress legitimate First Amendment conduct as a prophylactic measure.

Collins v. Jordan, 110 F.3d 1363, 1372 (9th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted).

Here, the district court relied on extensive evidence to conclude that Federal Agents violently retaliated against journalists and legal observers and denied them access to public fora in violation of the First Amendment. This Court should not “rubber-stamp” the Federal Agents’ request to stay the preliminary injunction “simply because the government says it is necessary.”  Leigh v. Salazar, 677 F.3d 892, 900 (9th Cir. 2012).  

[1] This brief was not authored, in whole or in part, by any party’s counsel.  No party, counsel, or other person—other than Amici and their counsel—contributed money intended to fund the preparation or submission of this brief.  All parties have consented to the filing of this brief.

[2] See Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 433-34 (2009) (considering where the public interest lies on motion for stay).  See also Siderman de Blake v. Republic of Argentina, 965 F. 2d 699, 719 (9th Cir. 1992) (acknowledging the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “is a powerful and authoritative statement of the customary international law of human rights.”) (citing Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, 630 F.2d 876, 882–84 (2d Cir.1980)); Sei Fujii v. State, 38 Cal. 2d 718, 724 (1952) (“The humane and enlightened objective of the United Nations Charter are, of course, entitled to respectful consideration by the courts and Legislatures of every member nation…The charter represents a moral commitment of foremost importance and we must not permit the spirit of our pledge to be compromised or disparaged in either our domestic or foreign affairs.”).

[3] Preamble, Charter of the United Nations, June 26, 1945, reprinted at https://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/preamble/index.html.

[4] G.A. Res. 217 (III)(A) at 72 (Dec. 10, 1948); see also id. Preamble.

[5] G.A. Res. 217 (III)(A) at 74-75 (Dec. 10, 1948).

[6] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”), Art. 19 (Dec. 16, 1966).

[7] UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, A/RES/53/144 (Dec. 9, 1998).

[8] ICCPR, Art. 19(3) (Dec. 16, 1966).

[9] Human Rights Committee, Art. 19, General Comment No. 34, Freedoms of Opinion and Expression, (Sept. 12, 2011), ¶2,  http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/docs/gc34.pdf. Paragraph 4 also states that “freedoms of opinion and expression form a basis for the full enjoyment of a wide range of other human rights. For instance, freedom of expression is integral to the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of assembly and association, and the exercise of the right to vote.” Id. at ¶4; see also ¶¶11, 13. Indeed, as early as 1946, the UN General Assembly recognized freedom of information, including the unfettered right to transfer and publish news, as “the touchstone of all freedoms.”  G.A. Res. 59(I) at 95 (Dec. 14, 1946) http://www.worldlii.org/int/other/UNGA/1946/87.pdf.

[10] See, e.g., https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/statement-press-secretary-setbacks-democracy-cambodia/ (“It is becoming increasingly evident to the world that the Cambodian government’s restrictions on civil society, suppression of the press, and banning of more than 100 opposition leaders from political activities have significantly set back Cambodia’s democratic development and placed its economic growth and international standing at risk.”).

[11] https://www.state.gov/presidential-elections-in-belarus/.

[12] https://www.state.gov/american-journalists-based-in-hong-kong/.

[13] https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/30/belarus-crackdown-political-activists-journalists (“From May through mid-July, police detained people who gathered peacefully in a variety of settings and arrested and beat journalists covering these events.”); https://cpj.org/2020/08/belarusian-police-continue-beating-and-detaining-journalists/ (“Belarusian authorities should stop the brutal treatment of journalists who have been reporting on post-election protests and allow them to work freely and safely[.]”.

[14] https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/05/muzzling-journalists-morocco-and-algeria-can-agree (“Algeria’s constitution and Morocco’s 2016 press law trumpet that no press offenses shall result in prison, but both states have just thrown the book at prominent journalists despite the pretense of respect for press freedom.”).

[15] https://cpj.org/2020/05/hong-kong-police-attack-and-detain-journalists-cov-1/ (“The police force’s failure to tolerate working journalists covering demonstrations only further erodes the city’s once-admired reputation for press freedom and the rule of law.”).

[16] https://cpj.org/about/research/.

[17] https://rsf.org/en/detailed-methodology. See also, https://rsf.org/en/ranking# (2020 World Press Freedom Index ranks the United States 45th out of 180 countries).

[19] https://pressfreedomtracker.us/  The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker brings together more than two dozen press freedom groups, including CPJ, to create a centralized repository for research. 

[20] E.g., https://cpj.org/2020/06/international-groups-call-on-trump-to-speak-up-for-press-freedom/ (“We call on you [President Trump] to send a clear and unambiguous message across the country and around the world about the importance of the press freedom and work of the press.”).

[21] https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/06/1066722.

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