Jailed blogger hits record as supporters rally

Journalists, politicians and others demonstrate on steps of SF City Hall as Josh Wolf becomes longest-jailed journalist for contempt.

SAN FRANCISCO--Dozens of supporters of jailed freelance video blogger Josh Wolf gathered at City Hall here Tuesday to rally for Wolf's release.

Those attending the demonstration held up signs with the words "Free Josh," and speakers were insistent on the unfairness of his imprisonment. Ross Mirkarimi, a San Francisco supervisor, said he was "angry as hell about this" and called for a "serious outcry, and not just only by us." In a statement, California state Assemblyman Mark Leno, who did not attend the rally, called Wolf's plight a "travesty of justice."

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Josh Wolf remains in a Dublin, Calif., correctional facility. Supporters held a rally to mark the day.

The afternoon gathering, which ran about an hour on the steps of City Hall, was organized by the Free Josh Wolf Coalition, with Wolf's friend Julian Davis acting as facilitator. "Basically, if Josh isn't released today, he'll be the longest-held journalist under contempt," Davis said. "We wanted to landmark the date by holding this rally."

Wolf, in fact, did on Tuesday become the longest-serving journalist behind bars in U.S. history for contempt.

On August 1, Wolf, 24, was jailed for contempt of court for refusing to cooperate with a federal grand jury seeking unpublished footage he shot during a 2005 protest that turned violent. Wolf was released on bail a month later while his appeal was being considered. But a three-judge panel rejected the appeal and revoked bail.

Wolf might normally be protected by California's Shield Law. But federal prosecutors, who want to see if Wolf's footage shows a San Francisco police car being set on fire at the protest, say they have jurisdiction over the case because the car was paid for in part by federal dollars. While many states have enacted shield laws to protect journalists from revealing confidential sources, notes and unpublished materials, there is no federal shield law to protect Wolf.

Federal officials could not be reached for comment.

The Society of Professional Journalists--which fights for the rights of journalists and has supported Wolf through its Legal Defense Fund--awarded Wolf with the James Madison Award for Online Free Speech Tuesday, his 168th day of incarceration. In November, he was awarded a 2006 journalist of the year award by the same organization.

As Wolf prepared to spend another night at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, Calif., Bruce Brugmann of the San Francisco Bay Guardian said that "Josh Wolf is not just a blogger, Josh Wolf is a hero." Brugmann, editor and publisher of the SFBG, alluded to an incident in which he had to submit bail for three editors writing about South Korea, and thought he would never have to deal with such a situation again.

Of Wolf's case, Brugmann said, "This is much worse than that. This is an independent journalist in San Francisco who's doing nothing but his job, and he's tossed in jail for contempt...Where are we, Bulgaria? Or Korea?"

As the event ended, Andy Blue of the Free Josh Wolf Coalition read aloud a letter written by Wolf from jail. Wolf "never thought this would happen," according to his letter. Wolf went on to say that he "grew up being taught that the United States was the greatest country on earth, that dissent was not only permitted but encouraged, and that we had a free press that was not encumbered by government interference."

CNET News.com's Leslie Katz contributed to this report.

 

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