NEW YORK—The arrests of several journalists covering protests in Washington, D.C., on felony riot charges is an alarming encroachment on the right of the press to document public demonstrations, PEN America said in a statement today.

Evan Engel of Vocativ, Alex Rubinstein of RT America, freelance journalist Aaron Cantu, and documentary producer Jack Keller were arrested while covering protests on the day of Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, along with at least two other independent journalists. They appear to have been caught up in mass arrests by police after some protesters committed acts of vandalism. Rubinstein, Engel, and Keller have stated that they identified themselves as press to the police, but were arrested anyway.

Felony riot charges carry a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

“Even a few weeks ago, the prospect of large numbers of journalists in America facing criminal charges, fines, and prison terms for doing their jobs would have seemed far-fetched,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America. “By slapping these journalists with felony charges, the U.S. Attorney’s office is intimidating the press at a time when mass protests are expanding and there is a pressing need for accurate reporting in the public interest. It is the obligation of our government officials to enable rather than impair that. The U.S. Attorney should drop these charges immediately.”

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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.

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Sarah Edkins, Director of Communications: sedkins@pen.org, +1.646.779.4830