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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Salvadoran journalist living in U.S. was detained while covering protest in Tennessee and could be deported



Salvadoran journalist Manuel Durán Ortega (42), who was arrested a month ago by police while covering a protest against immigration policies in the U.S., could be deported from that country at any time, Reporters Without Borders (RSF, for its acronym in French) reported.

Screenshot from a page calling for Manuel Durán's release and raising money for his bail. (FreeManuelDuran.org)

Durán Ortega, owner and journalist of the Spanish-language news site Memphis Noticias, came to the United States from El Salvador in 2006 after receiving death threats, according to RSF. While working as a journalist at a television channel in El Salvador, he carried out investigative reports on corruption within the police and the judicial system, the organization reported.

Before launching his site, he worked in other Memphis media, including the Spanish-language radio station WGSF, according to US Press Freedom Tracker.

According to Memphis Noticias, Durán had his press credentials while covering a peaceful demonstration outside a criminal justice center in Memphis, Tennessee. The news site said, “Durán had exposed ties between local police and ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), writing critical articles about the immigration detention system).”

“It is concerning that a journalist wearing his press credentials while reporting was arrested and has been held in an ICE facility for the past month,” said Margaux Ewen, director of RSF’s North America bureau. “We urge the U.S. government to consider the consequences of sending an investigative journalist back to a country where he has faced death threats.”

Lawyers for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) have asked a federal judge for the release of the Salvadoran journalist because his rights to freedom of expression and information have been violated, the Associated Press (AP) reported. “He’s been critical of law enforcement in his reporting and was targeted and retaliated against for that reporting,” said Michelle Lapointe, senior staff attorney with SPLC, according to the AP.

A spokeswoman for the Memphis Police Department and a federal immigration official stated that Durán's newspaper reports were not the reason for his arrest by police and subsequent detention by ICE, the AP published.

“Mr. Durán Ortega was ordered removed from the United States by a federal immigration judge in January 2007 after failing to appear for his scheduled court date,” ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said, according to the AP. “He has been an immigration fugitive since that time. Mr. Durán Ortega is currently in ICE custody pending removal.”

Durán alleged that he never received a notification to appear before a judge, according to Lapointe, for whom Duran’s arrest is part of a disturbing pattern for immigrants who speak out, the AP reported.

According to Memphis Noticias, Durán was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and obstruction of a highway.

Latino Memphis, another organization that is providing legal support to Durán, reported that the journalist was immediately detained by ICE at the end of the hearing in which he was acquitted of all charges, U.S. Freedom Tracker reported.

At a press conference in Memphis on April 15, SPLC released a statement written by Durán from the LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Louisiana. "No one should be deprived of their freedoms just for wanting a better future for their children," Durán wrote.

"This is a cruel system that criminalizes people who do not represent any danger to this country. My biggest challenge will be to continue working for my people, no matter where I am," Durán said in his letter.

Twenty-six groups supporting press freedom, civil rights, labor and civil liberties have signed a letter calling for Durán’s release from ICE detention. The groups include Free Press, Center for Media Justice, Index on Censorship, PEN America, the Society for Professional Journalists and others.

“The unlawful arrest of Duran violates his First Amendment rights and is an attack on press freedom in our country,” reads the statement, published by Free Press.

If he is not deported, Durán must pay bail to recover his freedom. In that sense, Memphis Noticias is asking for the community's support and has started a campaign to raise funds and donations that can cover Durán's bail.



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