NEW YORK – PEN America expressed grave concern over the recent detention and denial of entry to the United States of Canadian photojournalist Edward Ou. His subjection to multiple rounds of interrogations, as well as the confiscation and search of his personal belongings despite Ou’s assertion of journalistic privilege, appears to stretch beyond the scope of authority of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and has serious implications for freedom of the press.

Ou, an award-winning Canadian photojournalist who has worked with major media outlets such as The New York Times and Time magazine, was pulled aside for interrogation and search by CBP agents on October 1, 2016, while attempting to enter the United States. At the time, Ou was on assignment with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to cover the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota.

Ou was detained for more than six hours, during which time the CBP, reportedly photocopied his papers, including his personal diary. The CBP also asked for Ou to allow them access to the contents of his mobile phones; when Ou refused, citing journalistic privilege, the CBP confiscated the phones. When Ou’s phones were finally returned to him, they reportedly showed signs of the SIM cards being removed and reinserted. Moreover, one CBP officer reportedly stated that Ou’s refusal to allow them to search his phones “did not help” him, apparently contributing to the CBP’s decision to deny him entry.

Late last month, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote to the CBP and the Department of Homeland Security and argued that the CBP seized Ou’s belongings as part of an “opportunistic fishing expedition” intended to discover confidential information that Ou had gained through his reporting activities in other countries.

“While we recognize and respect the importance of the authority of CBP to determine the eligibility of individuals entering the country, Mr. Ou’s treatment and ultimate denial of entry was not warranted, appears to constitute harassment and raises serious questions about government interference with the media,” said Executive Director of PEN America Suzanne Nossel.  “Freedom of the press demands that journalists be permitted to cover events without potential reprisal by the state for the views or subject matter of their work or because of their refusal to undermine the integrity of confidential sources.” 

PEN America has long been engaged in upholding and promoting press freedom within the United States, including in its report on violations of press freedoms during the 2014 Ferguson, Missouri protests, Press Freedom Under Fire.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at PEN.org.
 

CONTACT:

Angelo Piro, Digitial Communications Assistant: apiro@pen.org, +1 646.779.4832