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Riot charge used against journalists in ND

Journalist Jenni Monet is facing misdemeanor charges including engaging in a riot for covering Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Jenni Monet/submitted photo

BISMARCK — At least five journalists have been charged with engaging in a riot while covering Dakota Access Pipeline protests, an offense that would carry a stiffer penalty under a proposal before the North Dakota Legislature.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Monday, Feb. 13, on House Bill 1426, which would make engaging in a riot a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $3,000 fine. Currently the offense is a Class B misdemeanor with a penalty of up to 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

Jenni Monet, the latest journalist arrested while covering pipeline protests, said she was taking notes and photos on Feb. 1 as pipeline opponents attempted to establish a new camp on private property.

Monet said she complied with police orders when asked to show her media credentials and was leaving the scene when she was one of 74 people arrested. She is charged with trespassing and engaging in a riot, both Class B misdemeanors.

Monet, who has covered the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's opposition to the pipeline since September for Indian Country Media Network, the Center for Investigative Reporting, PBS NewsHour and High Country News, said her arrest is a misunderstanding and she looks forward to her charges being reviewed and dropped.

"It's wrong and dangerous to charge journalists for a crime when we're just doing our jobs," Monet said.

The Native American Journalists Association has denounced Monet's arrest and called it a violation of free press principles.

North Dakota Highway Patrol Lt. Tom Iverson told The Bismarck Tribune he asked Monet to leave several times and she was unable to produce media credentials when asked.

At least eight journalists have been arrested while covering Dakota Access protests in North Dakota. Seven of the cases involve misdemeanor charges that are still pending.

Trespassing charges were dismissed against Democracy Now! journalist Amy Goodman. Prosecutors attempted to charge Goodman with engaging in a riot but a judge would not sign the complaint.

During a hearing for House Bill 1426, Assistant North Dakota Attorney General Jonathan Byers said individuals can be guilty of engaging in a riot if law enforcement gives an order to disperse and they don't leave the area, even if they're not actively participating in the riot.

Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, who introduced the bill at the request of law enforcement, said the intent of the bill is not to affect journalists who are covering a riot. However, he added that a journalism credential is not a "get out of jail free card" for someone who is inciting or participating in a riot.

The bill also would add stronger penalties for felony offenses such as inciting a riot and providing weapons for a riot. House members voted 63-27 in favor of the bill, going against a

do-not-pass recommendation from the House Judiciary Committee.

The Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on the bill is at 10 a.m. Monday in the Fort Lincoln Room.

Starting at 9 a.m. Monday, the committee will hold hearings on three other bills prompted by the pipeline protests that legislative leaders have asked to "fast-track."

Amnesty International, which has sent observers to the pipeline protests, wrote a letter to senators urging them to vote no on those bills and others that stem from the protests, saying they "undermine the rights to peaceful protest and freedom of expression."

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

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