First Amendment Group, Civil Rights Lawyers Object to Stanford’s Call to File Criminal Charges against Student Journalist Covering Gaza Anti-War Protest

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By Leela Bronner

STANFORD, CA – Earlier this month, Stanford student journalist Dilan Gohill was arrested on charges of felony burglary, vandalism and conspiracy after covering a Gaza peace protest in which he became barricaded in the university president’s office.

While Stanford University President Richard Saller and Provost Jenny Martinez made statements that the school “fully support(s) having him be criminally prosecuted,” Gohill’s attorneys have released new details that support his innocence.

Following the protests, Saller and Martinez said, “We are appalled that our students chose to take this action and we will work with law enforcement to ensure that they face the full consequences allowed by the law.”

The Stanford leaders also stated, “All arrested students will be immediately suspended and in case any of them are seniors, they will not be allowed to graduate.”

Maxwell Szabo, an attorney and spokesperson for Gohill, stated, “For a University renowned for churning out some of the brightest minds, Stanford leadership’s calls for the criminal prosecution of a young journalist covering a protest is decidedly dim witted.”

“Seeking accountability for the protesters is one thing, but advocating that a journalist face criminal consequences for doing his job is at odds with an institution of higher learning and the university’s own motto that ‘the winds of freedom blow,’” agreed Jean-Paul Jassy, an attorney representing Gohill.

Editors from The Stanford Daily, of which Gohill is a member, said Gohill “was present to report on the protest for The Daily and was detained in violation of his First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights. We are appalled at this threat to the freedom of the press.”

Jassy said, “Whatever your position is on the war in Gaza, a free press ensures we receive vital information and differing viewpoints.”

Also, according to The Daily, Gohill wore a press pass and Stanford Daily attire and remained in communication with another reporter outside the building when covering the protest.

Gohill’s attorneys argue that “publicly available photos demonstrate that Dilan wore red Stanford Daily attire and displayed his media credentials while protesters wore all black and covered their faces with sunglasses and balaclavas.”

Gohill was additionally instructed “to comply with any instructions from police officers” by editors of The Daily before covering the demonstration.

The Daily also reported Gohill “told arresting officers he was in the building to report on the protest and displayed his press pass.” Over speakerphone, Gohill’s editors heard protestors tell law enforcement officers that Dilan was “not one of us, he’s press.”

Despite this, Gohill was “transported in a van to the Santa Clara County Jail, where he – along with protesters – was booked and cited.” He was then “falsely imprisoned on $20,000 bail, in violation of his rights as a reporter,” according to The Daily.

New information released by Gohill’s attorneys reveals he was held in jail for 15 hours, during which “Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Deputies attempted to gain access to Dilan’s iPhone, putting it up to his face in order to gain entry via Face ID.”

The Stanford Daily said Gohill’s “arrest constitutes a threat to the freedom of the press, including protection from unreasonable search and seizure, and we are disappointed in the actions of officers and the University.”

Nick Rowley, trial attorney and co-founder of Trial Lawyers for Justice, stated. “Dilan did not break into any building, vandalize any property, nor did he create the barricade that left him trapped with the protesters.”

Rowley argued, “In this country we don’t arrest journalists because we don’t like what they’re writing about. Law enforcement and the university alike need to take immediate steps to correct this injustice.”

The California-based First Amendment Coalition and the Student Press Law Center, along with 24 other organizations dedicated to free speech and freedom of the press, this week also called on the Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office to decline charges against Gohill.

In a letter sent to Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, the organizations wrote: “We urge your office to avoid expending significant resources prosecuting a young journalist who was acting in good faith to serve the public’s interest in timely coverage of newsworthy events.”

About The Author

Leela Bronner is a second year student at the University of Vermont, majoring in Psychological Science and minoring in Neuroscience and Law and Society. In continuing her education while working as an intern at the Davis Vanguard, Leela aims to gain valuable insights on the intersection of the legal system with mental health institutions. She hopes to make an impact on criminal justice and prison reform while pursuing a career in investigative work or psychological research. In her free time, Leela enjoys anything creative, spending quality time with others, and watching movies.

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