NEW YORK—The May 9 arrest of Dan Heyman, a Public News Service reporter, at the West Virginia State Capitol after he repeatedly tried to ask Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price a question is an egregious overreaction to a journalist trying to do his job, PEN America said in a statement today.

Heyman, along with a number of journalists, was at the capitol and attempted to question Secretary Price as he entered the building. After he reportedly asked Price several times about whether domestic violence would be considered a pre-existing condition under the new healthcare bill passed by the House, he was arrested by Capitol police. Although the police alleged that he was being “aggressive” and “causing a disturbance,” Heyman said that he did not receive any prior warnings about his behavior or his location just inside the capitol foyer. He was charged with disrupting government processes and released only after posting a $5,000 bond.

“We are extremely concerned that a reporter has been arrested and charged for doing his job,” said Karin Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “Journalists are supposed to question those in positions of authority in an attempt to ascertain and clarify information which is in the public interest. We urge authorities in West Virginia to drop the charges against Dan Heyman and to respect the essential role of the press in a democracy.”

A number of reporters have faced arrest and possible charges in recent months, including several who were attempting to cover protests surrounding the Presidential inauguration in Washington D.C. in January 2017 and others covering the ongoing protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

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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.

CONTACT: Karin Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs: +1 646-779-4822, kdkarlekar@pen.org