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U.S. blogger, only journalist in prison in the Americas, sentenced to 90 days in prison

Roger Shuler. Photo: Shelby County Jail.

Alabama journalist Roger Shuler, founder of the blog Legal Schnauzer, was sentenced last week to 90 days for resisting arrest last October. Shuler is in jail without bond for contempt. His imprisonment makes him the only journalist behind bars in the Western hemisphere.

A former sportswriter and a former employee at a university publication’s department, Shuler, 57, created his blog in 2007 with his wife Carol. Shuler covered various subjects – from corruption to marital infidelities of Alabama’s elite – with stories frequently based on anonymous sources.

The article that sent Shuler to jail concerned Robert Riley Jr., an ex-governor’s son, who Shuler alleged made pregnant and then forced an abortion on a state employee called Liberty Duke. Riley and Duke have each denied the story, suing the Schulers for defamation and convincing a judge to erase the information from the blog, an order resisted by the journalists. 

The New York Times noted that the complainants did not foresee Shuler’s indefinite prison stay or the international attention the case has generated by the fact that Shuler has become the only person in the Americas imprisoned for working as a journalist during 2013, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

For some observers, the case violates First Amendment protections and may establish a negative precedent. Since 1931, the U.S. Supreme Court of Justice established that the First Amendment prohibited judges from issuing orders restricting an individual’s liberty to say or publish something, even if its content were defamatory.

In an article published on Salon, journalist Natasha Lennard wrote that the case could be more serious than it at first appears. While Shuler’s case presents significant Constitutional dilemmas, Lennard wrote that his situation has worsened because some media outlets have characterized Shuler as frequently publishing rumors or confidential information lacking in substance. The media also report that Shuler rejected legal aid to challenge his imprisonment. Carol Shuler denied these facts in an interview with Lennard.

This post was translated by human rights investigator and journalist Patrick Timmons. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons


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