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Google, Asked at UN About Censorship, Moved to Censor the Questioner, Sources Say, Blaming UN - Update - Editorial

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UNcensored 2: Physically Ousted from UN, First Amendment Stops at 1st Avenue

By Matthew Russell Lee, Series started here

UNITED NATIONS, February 7 – For the Syria stakeout in front of the UN Security Council on February 19, 2016, seemingly my last one, I tried to blend in. It wasn't easy with a UN Security officer following my every move.

  But I stood typing and tweeting, and stepped up to the stakeout railing each time someone came to speak on the microphone. I put two questions to Turkey's ambassador, who always traveled with a bodyguard himself, then returned to my laptop to transcribe them.

  By then most of the other reporters had left. A UN Security supervisor came and and told me, “So you'll be leaving, eh?”

  “I don't agree with any of it,” I told him. “But I'm trying to arrange for a van to move some of my stuff from my office. Just the most important stuff. Not because I accept being thrown out, but because I don't trust this place anymore.”

  “Alright then,” the supervisor said. “So you'll get yourself a van.”  He walked away.

   I did send out some emails, including to Jose Ramos Horta, who beyond the UN job he had was a Nobel Peace Prize winner. I told him I was being thrown out, and to email Cristina Gallach, who had signed the letter. To my surprise he wrote back quickly and said he would.

   By then two other UN Security officer came over.  “Look,” one of them told me, “don't make trouble. I say this as your friend. They have fifteen of us on this. So just pack up and live to fight another day.”

  I nodded. I was wondering how Gallach could do this, if a Nobel Peace Prize winner was asking her about it. Just to be sure, I plugged in my phone and put it on the riser next to me, filming and live streaming the scene and the replica of Picasso's Guernica to the side of the Security Council stakeout.

    Ramos Horta wrote back, saying that Gallach told him I would still have the same access as a reporter, only not an office anymore. He forwarded me her response and said I could use it:

“Dear mr Ramos-Horta,

Many thanks for your message which allows me to inform you about the decision I have taken on the type of accreditation that Mr Lee has and will have in the future.

Recently mr Lee openly broke the rules that guide all the resident correspondents. After careful consideration of the internal report elevated to me, I decided to continue providing him with a press pass that allows him to work without any impediment at the UN, as the vast majority of journalists. What the UN cannot do is to let him use an space exclusively for  him, after the mentioned events.

As you can see, mr Lee will have a valid press card as soon as he presents himself to the accreditation premises.

Rest assured that I am the first person to be interested in ensuring totally free and safe reporting from the UN HQ and about the UN. This is what mr. Lee will be able to do.”

  Just then the Security supervisor came back, this time with eight other officers.

  “That's it,” the supervisor said. “Party's over.”

  One of the guards grabbed my phone, yanked it off the wire and pushed all the buttons, trying to get it to stop filming. Video here.

  “Hey don't touch my phone!” I said.

  “It's over,” the supervisor said. He grabbed the ID badge around my neck and tore it off. “You're a trespasser now. If you resist we'll hand you over to NYPD.”

  “I'm a journalist here ten years,” I started to say.

  “WERE a journalist,” the supervisor said. “C'mon, we're leaving.”

  Another guard had grabbed my laptop. “Let me go upstairs and get my passport,” I said. “And my coat.”

   The guards were pushing me toward the escalator, the one heading down, not up. One flight down in in the lobby I saw two members of the board of the United Nations Correspondents Association, which I'd quit two years before after being ordered by the UN Correspondents Assocaition's president to take an article off-line.  “Great job,” I yelled at them. “You're the UN's Censorship Alliance.”

   “More walking, less talking,” the supervisor said. I decided I should at least know his name. So I asked. Three times.

 “I'm the Deputy Chief,” he said.

  “You're not going to give your name?” I asked him. “Even NYPD has to do that.”

  He paused. “McNulty,” he finally said. Audio here. Then again the pushing, out onto the traffic circle, toward the guard booth at the front which checked the cars coming into the UN garage.

 “You know why they're doing this,” I said to the officer next to me, or all the officers. “It's become of corruption. A guy's been indicted for paying bribes in the UN and when I asked if Ban Ki-moon's involved, suddenly he's having you throw me out.”

  “Enough, enough,” McNulty said. We had arrived at the guard booth, and one of the guards opened the metal gate out to First Avenue.

 “I'm not leaving without my phone,” I said. My mind was swimming. Audio here.

  “We'll give that to you once you're out,” McNulty said. And with that, pushed me out the gate. I saw my backpack thrown on the ground, with my laptop on it. Someone handed me my phone and suddenly the gate was locked. To the side I saw the Voice of America which as they tried earlier to get me out of the UN I'd told that to use US taxpayers' money to try to get an American investigative journalist thrown out of the UN might be a problem.
  “That's a threat,” she told me.

  “It's just a statement of the law,” I'd told her. “It's in the First Amendment.”

  But the First Amendment, I'd found, ends at First Avenue.


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