Independent Journalist Charged with Civil Contempt for Resisting Grand Jury Subpoena
Josh Wolf Threatened with Jail Time for Trying to Protect His and Others' Constitutional Rights
San Francisco, CA -- Independent journalist Josh Wolf, who is facing civil contempt charges for refusing to testify and provide evidence to a federal grand jury, will appear before U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup this Thursday. On behalf of the government, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Finigan is seeking video footage of a July 2005 protest in the Mission district against the Group of Eight (G8), meeting in Scotland at the time. If convicted, Wolf could be jailed for up to 13 months.
"The charge of contempt and possible jail time for invoking my constitutional rights to protect my work is unconscionable," said Josh Wolf, in anticipation of this Thursday's hearing. "A conviction will have an incredible chilling effect on my work as journalist," continued Wolf. "But it will also undermine the protections provided to journalists' in gathering and disseminating information, as well as the ability of people to speak out and be heard."
Activists and Lawyers supporting Wolf contend that his grand jury subpoena and subsequent charge of contempt is an attempt to avoid California's strict Reporter Shield Law, which protects journalists' files and notes. The federal government says it is investigating alleged damage to a police vehicle, stemming from the G8 protests last summer, yet no damage was officially reported. Multiple witnesses have corroborated that the police vehicle in question was driven into a crowd of protesters. This action was followed by two police officers exiting the vehicle and violently assaulting multiple people on the street.
This week, San Francisco Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Chris Daly introduced a resolution "resisting the federal government's intervention in the City and County of San Francisco's investigation of the July 8th, 2005 G-8 protest and expressing support for the California Shield Law." The Supervisors charged that the grand jury is an "attempt to circumvent the local judicial system," and they opposed federal government intervention in this matter. The full Board will vote on the resolution Tuesday.
Wolf's experience with the federal government and this grand jury is not isolated, and comes as dozens of journalists and activists across the country are being threatened with indictments and jail time. "The U.S. government's harassment of Josh Wolf is part of a broader, renewed use of the federal grand jury to suppress dissent," said Samantha Levens of the Grand Jury Resistance Project (GJRP), a coalition in support of Wolf and activists being harassed by the government. In May, Jeff Hogg, a full-time nursing student who works with developmentally disabled adults in Eugene, Oregon, was jailed for refusing to comply with a federal grand jury investigating environmental and animal rights activists. In San Francisco, a federal grand jury has recently been reconvened to investigate the animal liberation movement. Many activists refused to testify for the previous grand jury that expired in May. However, new subpoenas to appear in August have been served on multiple animal rights activists.
Information compiled by the Grand Jury Resistance Project (GJRP), a coalition that provides education on politically motivated attacks by government and support to people targeted by these attacks, shows that grand juries are currently being used against environmental and animal rights activists, as well as groups that have historically struggled for self-determination. The GJRP reports that in the past year, at least 66 individuals have been subpoenaed and/or indicted in Atlanta, Denver, Eugene, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego, Tampa, FL, and Trenton, NJ. At least fourteen people have refused to testify, and some were jailed for contempt. In an affidavit filed in connection with the indictment of three environmental activists in Auburn, CA, the FBI irrelevantly referenced "anarchists" and "anarchism" 26 times. GJRP believes that the grand jury to which Josh Wolf has been subpoenaed is part of the same broad and unconstitutional federal investigation into anarchist and antiwar activity and other political movements that oppose U.S. policies.