Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Judge calls halt to protests at mountaintop mines, says journalists can't trespass to cover them

A West Virginia judge has issued a preliminary injuction to stop protests at Massey Energy Co.'s mountaintop-removal mines in the Mountain State, and ruled that journalists cannot trespass on the property to cover the protests. "But activists said today their fight — and their peaceful civil disobedience actions — will continue," reports Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette.

Circuit Judge Robert Burnside earlier issued a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit that Massey subsidiaries filed "to block future protests, invoke more serious punishment (civil contempt, with fines or jail time) for future protesters, and require the State Police to handle future protests in specific ways," Ward reports.

"Burnside refused to drop contempt-of-court citations for photojournalist Antrim Caskey and four protesters. Burnside had held them in contempt of his previous TRO for a mid-April protest action. Caskey had been enjoined in the TRO after she went onto mine property to photograph earlier civil-disobedience actions. None of the four protesters were named in the TRO, but they and Caskey were held in contempt of the order because they alerted her to their planned protest and she went along to document it. Caskey and the protesters have been fined $500 each. Burnside also indicated he would include both Caskey and another journalist, Chad Stevens, as named parties specifically enjoined by his preliminary injunction."

However, Burnside "refused a request by lawyers for Massey that State Police be instructed to confiscate cameras, film and memory cards from cameras in the possession of any future protesters," Ward reports. Also, the judge "did allow one of the journalists to withhold the identity of his sources using the state's shield law," according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. That was Stevens, a former photography instructor at Western Kentucky University. He says he is working on a documentary about wind turbines as an alternative to mountaintop removal; "Caskey is a photojournalist who has been covering the work of Climate Ground Zero, a group that is fighting the practice of mountaintop removal," says the Reporters Committee. "She considers herself 'embedded' in the group." She has been cited three times, Stevens once, for trespassing. (Read more)

Stevens asks on his Facebook page, "What happens in a situation when a story can literally only be covered photographically by trespassing? What about responsibility to the public? Our civic duty? Is breaking the law ever justified?"

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