September 20, 2006

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

SAN JUAN, PR - The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Puerto Rico today filed a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigations for violating the civil rights of more than 20 reporters in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The journalists were beaten, maced, and prevented from covering a significant news story even though they were violating no laws.

“At issue is a fundamental freedom guaranteed by both the Constitution of the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, that of freedom of the press,” said William Ramirez, Director of the ACLU of Puerto Rico National Chapter. 

The lawsuit, filed today in the U.S. District Court in San Juan, Puerto Rico, outlines the FBI’s violations of the journalists’ civil rights. According to ACLU legal papers, on February 10, 2006, federal agents physically assaulted reporters covering a high-profile FBI raid on the home of Lilian Laboy, a prominent political activist believed to be associated with the movement for Puerto Rican independence.

The lawsuit describes how the FBI acted illegally and violated the First Amendment rights of the reporters by impeding their ability to cover the story, thereby also impeding the rights of the public to be informed. It also gives an account of how the use of excessive force was a violation of the reporters’ Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

The ACLU is asking the court to ensure the safety and First Amendment rights of the media when covering future FBI operations in Puerto Rico by banning the further use of pepper spray and excessive force against reporters attempting to gather the news.  

“The right to gather and report on the news is explicitly guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,” said Mark Lopez, a senior staff attorney with the National ACLU, which is based in New York. “The media performs an essential role in an informed public and in ensuring the accountability of our government.  When federal officials interfere with that role they strike at the core of our democratic freedom.”

The events leading to this lawsuit, Asociacion de Periodistas de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Journalists Association, Overseas Press Club of Puerto Rico, et al., v. Robert Muellerand Ten Unknown Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, et al., followed the September 2005 killing of Filiberto Ojeda-Rios, a pro-independence leader who was wanted by the FBI.

The ACLU lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Puerto Rican Journalists Association, the Overseas Press Club of Puerto Rico, Normando Valentin, Victor Sanchez, Joel Lago Roman, Cossette Donalds Brown, Victor Fernandez, and Annette Alvarez. It names Robert Mueller, Director of the FBI and also makes a claim for monetary damages against 10 unknown FBI agents and several named agents, including Agent Luis Fraticelli, Puerto Rico’s lead agent.

Lopez, Ramirez, the legal staff of the ACLU of Puerto Rico National Chapter and cooperating attorney Nora Vargas-Acosta, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, are representing the reporters and news organizations.

The ACLU complaint is online at www.aclu.org/freespeech/gen/26800lgl20060210.html

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