14 August 2014. The use of excessive force and arbitrary arrest of peaceful demonstrators and journalists in Ferguson, Missouri, USA, represents a severe breach of the right to freedom of assembly says global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.
“The authorities have a responsibility to protect and facilitate the right to peaceful assembly,” said Tor Hodenfield, Policy and Advocacy Officer at CIVICUS. “However, police in Ferguson have actively sought to undermine the ongoing protests in an apparent attempt to quash independent dissent.”
Over 50 people have been arrested and numerous others injured since peaceful demonstrations began on 11 August in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of the state capital, St. Louis. The protests stem from the fatal shooting of an unarmed African- American teenager, Michael Brown, by police officers on Saturday, 10 August. Protestors are calling for greater accountability for the shooting, including the immediate disclosure of the identity of the officer responsible.
In a grave escalation of the authorities’ heavy handed response to the protests, on Wednesday, 13 August, police repeatedly used rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the demonstrators. Armoured trucks and armed members of the police’s riot division, including snipers positioned on rooftops, were also deployed in a blatant act of intimidation and harassment.
In addition, at least 10 demonstrators were arrested on Wednesday. Among those arrested include an elected St. Louis city official, Antonio French, who has documented the protests on twitter where he has nearly 50,000 followers. French has reportedly been charged with unlawful assembly and remains in detention.
Two journalists covering the demonstrations were also actively targeted by the police on Wednesday. Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan J. Reilly of The Huffington Post were arrested while recording and taping the protests inside a McDonalds. The reporters were reportedly held for over thirty minutes and released without explanation.
“Despite firm constitutional protections, time and again we have seen law enforcement officials clampdown on peaceful protests across the US with impunity,” said Hodenfield.” The Obama administration must make unequivocally clear the right to peaceful assembly is sacrosanct and any unwarranted violations of this right should be properly investigated.”
CIVICUS calls on relevant state and federal authorities to create and maintain a safe and conducive environment for public protest in accordance with international and domestic law governing freedom of assembly. Specifically we urge the authorities to: i) Ensure the unconditional release of all peaceful demonstrators arrested for engaging in the protests; ii) Halt all use of excessive force to disperse peaceful protestors; iii) Allow all human rights defenders, including bloggers, citizen journalists and accredited reporters to monitor the demonstrations without undue interference and; iv) Independently investigate all instances of violations of the rights of human rights defenders.