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ST. LOUIS – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Bilgin Şaşmaz, a journalist with the Turkish Anadolu Agency who was on assignment covering the protests in Ferguson after the killing of Michael Brown. Şaşmaz’ rights under the First Amendment to freedom of the press and freedom of speech were violated. His photographic equipment was damaged and image files confiscated.
On the evening of Aug. 19, Şaşmaz had been photographing Ray Albers, a former St. Ann police office, who was pointing his weapon at protesters and yelling that he was going to kill them. A St. Louis County Police officer threw Şaşmaz violently into the pavement, handcuffed and arrested him, even though Şaşmaz repeatedly said “Press, Press” to identify himself as a member of the media to the officer.
Şaşmaz, of Middle Eastern descent, was working alongside many Caucasian reporters and photographers, who were not arrested but documented the interaction. “Mr. Şaşmaz should not have been treated like a criminal when he was only doing his job of reporting the unrest in Ferguson,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Democracy suffers whenever the police hinder our news gatherers.”
“The ACLU will do everything we can to preserve the freedom of the press, which has been hampered many times in Ferguson,” says Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The public has a right to learn what is happening in their community and draw their own conclusions about the appropriateness of police conduct.”
The ACLU of Missouri is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that defends and expands the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Missourians guaranteed under the United States and Missouri Constitutions, through its litigation, legislative and public education programs. It is an affiliate of the national ACLU.