Two documentary filmmakers who faced decades in prison for filming last month's dramatic tar sands direct action have had all charges against them dropped.
The prosecuting attorney for Skagit County, Washington on Friday dismissed all charges for filmmaker Lindsey Grayzel and cinematographer Carl Davis, who were arrested and jailed on October 11, 2016 for filming climate activist Ken Ward as he shut down a TransMountain oil pipeline in Burlington, Washington.
Grayzel, Davis, and Ward—who is the subject of Grayzel's documentary short, "The Reluctant Radical"—were among the ten activists across four states who were detained for taking part in the Shut It Down day of action.
The filmmakers faced charges of burglary, criminal sabotage, assemblage of saboteurs, and criminal trespass, with a total maximum punishment of 30 years and a fine of $46,000.
"I call on everyone who values an independent press to decry this disturbing trend and call for the immediate dismissal of criminal charges for members of the media."
—filmmaker Lindsey Grayzel
An email sent to reporters said that Grayzel was relieved at the news, albeit "troubled by the effect of the state's prosecution of members of independent media."
"Unfortunately, our arrests are not unique or isolated incidents," Grayzel said in a statement.
"Recently, many members of independent media have been prosecuted for doing our jobs. Filmmakers Deia Schlosberg and Steve Liptay currently face charges in North Dakota and Minnesota for filming protest actions at oil pipelines, and there are numerous reports of charges being brought upon reporters and photographers covering the Dakota Access Pipeline protests," she continued.
Schlosberg was also arrested for documenting the shut-down of Transcanada's Keystone pipeline while filmmaker Liptay was mailed the charges after the fact, documentarian and activist Josh Fox recently told Democracy Now!.
"I call on everyone who values an independent press to decry this disturbing trend," Grayzel added, "and call for the immediate dismissal of criminal charges for members of the media."
In a Facebook post on Friday, Grayzel further noted that "[s]everal hundred people in North Dakota still need to be exonerated," referring to the scores of Indigenous water protectors who have been arrested for resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). "We fight on," she vowed.
According to the statement, Grayzel's camera footage continues to be held, preventing her from editing and sharing the direct action with the public (though some of her raw footage has been posted online).
Further, it notes that "being jailed, posting bail, obtaining attorneys, appearing in court, and living under the threat of prison have posed an unreasonable burden to her freedoms and have created a chilling effect for other filmmakers and reporters considering covering the important topics of climate change and political dissent."
As many have observed, the crackdown against journalists covering the climate fight—from the charges against Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman in North Dakota, to the cases mentioned above—signifies a failure of democracy and, as Fox recently said, "speaks volumes" to the importance of the work being done.