Press Freedom, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Groups Call on ICE to Immediately Release Detained Journalist Manuel Durán Ortega

May 8, 2018
10:08 AM

The following media release was published on Monday here by Free Press:

WASHINGTON — On Monday, 26 press freedom, civil rights, labor and civil liberties groups submitted a letter urging a regional U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office to release unjustly detained journalist Manuel Durán Ortega.

The Memphis police arrested Durán on April 3 while he was covering a local protest over the targeting of undocumented immigrants by local and federal law-enforcement agencies. The local police arrested Durán and charged him with disorderly conduct and obstruction of a highway or passageway, even though he was wearing a press badge around his neck and was identified by others as a member of the media.

Memphis authorities dropped the charges against Durán on April 5, but then turned him over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has detained Durán in Jena, Louisiana, with plans to deport him to El Salvador, where he has faced death threats for past reporting as the manager of a local TV station.

“As organizations advocating for press freedom, immigrant rights and racial justice, we are outraged by Durán’s arrest and detainment, which are in direct violation of the First Amendment,” reads the letter, which Free Press organized. Signers include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Media Justice, Color Of Change, Index on Censorship, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, PEN America, Reporters Without Borders North America and WITNESS, among other groups.

“Durán’s arrest and subsequent detention are an attack on the First Amendment and press freedoms in our country,” said Free Press Senior Director of Strategy and Engagement Joseph Torres. “It also silences an essential journalistic voice in Memphis who has provided the Spanish-language community with the news and information they need to stay engaged with what’s happening in their city.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which is representing Durán, and the Latino community in Memphis believe Durán is being targeted because of his critical coverage of the city’s police department and the Department of Homeland Security. Durán has written stories about police abuse and misconduct, immigration detention centers and coordination between Memphis police and ICE. According to his lawyers, Durán faces an immediate threat of deportation.

The text of the ICE letter follows below: