A seasoned press photographer has been arrested and had his memory card seized after he took photos of protesters at a controversial former military barrack.
Freelance photographer Andy Aitchison, 46, documented a protest outside Napier Barracks in Folkestone in the United Kingdom. This demonstration was regarding concerns about poor living conditions for the close to 400 asylum seekers who are currently housed there. So far, it has been reported that more than 100 cases of coronavirus have been detected on the camp in the last two weeks.
Protesters held signs in front of the military barracks reading: "There will be blood on your hands" and demanding that the place was closed down. Buckets of fake blood were also thrown at the gates of the camp to illustrate their message.
Several hours after some of the images from the day had already been published, five police officers came to the photographer's house to arrest him. While there, his mobile phone and the memory card from his camera were seized. Aitchison was arrested in front of his children under suspicion of criminal damage of a dwelling. The photographer, who had never been arrested before, was held in a police cell for over five hours before being released on bail. The restrictive bail conditions mean Aitchison is not allowed to return to the barracks until February, when his case has concluded.
After his release, Aitchison spoke to the Independent newspaper in the UK about how he was treated.
He told the publication that he was shocked by his arrest, adding: “It’s such a bizarre thing, getting arrested for the work I do. I’ve never had anything like this before, and I’ve photographed many, many a protest." Comment was also made by The National Union of Journalists who said it was “extremely concerned” by the arrest. Adding: “Andrew was present solely as a journalist and took no part in the protest”.
Having a criminal record can be problematic for photographers who travel around the world for work. In Aitchison's case, it could impact his career greatly, as he often documents those in the prison sector, something which would be much more difficult to do with a criminal record. The actions of the police in this instance set a worrying precedent and powerful deterrent to photographers who just want to document events. What's also concerning is that as recently as 2019, the UK was a key country in the Global Media Freedom Coalition. This partnership advocates for media freedom and holds to account those who harm journalists from doing their job. Let's hope this authoritative body looks into this case for the sake of press freedom everywhere.
Lead image by Pixabay, used under Creative Commons.