Iowa journalist arrested during summer protests testifies in her own defense: 'I was just doing my job'
Andrea Sahouri, a journalist for the Des Moines Register, was arrested last year during the historic summer protests that swept the United States following the death of George Floyd. Now, she has taken the stand to defend herself and her profession.
On Tuesday, March 9, Sahouri appeared in court to testify on her own behalf. The Iowa journalist, who is one of a few journalists facing charges for doing their jobs and covering the protests, expressed the importance of reporters being able to document key events, especially those that are historic.
According to Sahouri, she was assigned to the protests and was simply doing her job by being there, reports USA Today. "It's important for journalists to be on the scene and document what's happening," Sahouri said during her testimony. "Protests erupted not just across the country but all over the world. I felt like I was playing a role in that. I know we are a small city, but I felt like I was playing a role in that."
Body cam footage from Sahouri's interaction with law enforcement officers was also played during the trial. The footage captured the moments after Sahouri was pepper-sprayed. The rattled reporter could be heard repeatedly telling officers, "This is my job. This is my job. I'm just doing my job. … I was sent here. … I'm a journalist."
In the wake of the protests, Sahouri was charged with two misdemeanor offenses — failure to disperse and interference with official acts. At the time, she and her ex-boyfriend, Spenser Robnett, who attended the protest with her for safety purposes, were also pepper-sprayed by law enforcement.
Sahouri also recounted the series of events she witnessed and experienced that day leading up to the moment they were pepper-sprayed. When she arrived at a demonstration near the mall, she confirmed that she began uploading photos and videos to Twitter. That scene quickly erupted into civil unrest when protesters clashed with police officers.
Although prosecutors with the Polk County Attorney's Office insist the crowd was told to disperse, Sahouri and Robnett both testified saying that they did not hear that order from police officers. Her attorney, Nicholas Klinefeldt, also reiterated his clients' stance.
The arrests and charges brought against journalists and reporters have garnered heightened criticism from advocacy groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, who are calling for the charges against Sahouri and other reporters to be dropped.
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