SPJ urges equal treatment of Somali-American journalist covering ISIS case in Minneapolis

The Minnesota Pro Chapter of the SPJ has sent the following letter to the U.S. marshal in charge of security at the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis:

The Minnesota Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is deeply troubled by the problems experienced by MPR News reporter Mukhtar Ibrahim at the U.S. District Courthouse in Minneapolis.

The Twin Cities Black Journalists and the Minnesota chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association join MNSPJ in expressing their concern.

Ibrahim, a Somali-American journalist who has been covering the local ISIS cases over the past year, appears to be treated differently by courthouse security officers than his peers in the media.

Last week, at the start of the trial, a guard declined to let Ibrahim through the security checkpoint after allowing a Star Tribune reporter, who is white, to pass.  The security officer told Ibrahim to wait in line with the general public.

And then days later, after an outburst in the courtroom that led to the removal of a handful of spectators, Ibrahim and the same Star Tribune reporter went to the hallway to observe.  A security officer told Ibrahim to leave the courthouse, but said nothing to the other reporter.  Fortunately, another officer vouched for Ibrahim and he was allowed to stay.

According to an order issued by U.S. District Judge Michael Davis prior to the trial, seating in the courtroom is reserved for media personnel who can provide credentials.

In both incidents, Ibrahim displayed his MPR News press pass.

The apparent singling out of Ibrahim is not unprecedented at the courthouse.  Last year, while attending pre-trial hearings in the ISIS case, he noticed that he was consistently pulled aside for secondary screening while other reporters were not.

SPJ commends U.S. Marshal Sharon Lubinski for apologizing in person to Ibrahim on Friday on behalf of courthouse security and for personally looking into the matter.  However, we are concerned that some officers will continue to disregard court directives.

We urge Marshal Lubinski to make clear to courthouse security staff that disparate treatment of Ibrahim violates the rules and procedures set out by the presiding judge.

On behalf of the chapters’ membership,

Jonathan Kealing
President — MNSPJ

Delane Cleveland
President — AAJA-MN

Maria Reeve
President — TCBJ

Journalists or officials with questions about this statement may contact the board at minnesota.spj@gmail.com.