Photojournalist Andy Aitchison (46) was recently arrested after photographing protests at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, UK. He was reportedly arrested on suspicion of criminal damage for taking photos. In other words – for doing his job. He believes it’s censorship, and some serious concerns have been raised about media freedom.
The protest took place on Thursday, 28 January. The protesters demanded that the Napier camp should be closed due to the poor living conditions in the barracks. Over the last two weeks, more than 100 people in the camp have contracted the coronavirus, and a fire broke out at the site on Friday. The protesters held signs reading “Close Napier now” and “There will be blood on your hands” and threw buckets of fake blood at Napier’s gates.
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Aitchison was there to take photos of the protests. He published photos on Twitter, and some of them were used in various news reports covering the protests.
Activists throw fake blood at Napier Barracks to highlight human rights violations, A message to government to Close Napier camp or there will be blood on your hands over the failures in handling the inevitable Covid-19 outbreak onsite. #solidaritywithnapier pic.twitter.com/KjELJ8oaLn
— Andy Aitchison (@andyaitchison) January 28, 2021
However, only a few hours after the photos were out, five police officers reportedly arrived at Aitchison’s home. The Independent writes that he was arrested “under suspicion of criminal damage of a dwelling.” The police confiscated his phone and his memory card and took him to the local police station. According to the same source, he was held in a police cell for over five hours. Around 10 pm the same day, he was released on bail until 22 February. In the meantime, he will not be allowed to attend Napier Barracks.
Aitchison has worked as a photographer for 26 years. During all this time, he has never been arrested. Speaking with The Independent, he said that he was shocked by his arrest. “It’s such a bizarre thing, getting arrested for the work I do,” the photographer said. “I’ve never had anything like this before, and I’ve photographed many, many a protest.”
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) expressed concerns with Aitchison’s arrest. Pamela Morten of NUJ said that “Andrew was present solely as a journalist and took no part in the protest.”
“News gatherers are key workers and it is their role and duty to report on matters of public interest. The police should not be seeking to interfere, prevent or restrict what journalists record in this way.”
The photographer was concerned that the arrest could have a negative impact on his career. The Independent writes that Aitchison works in the prison sector a lot, and the criminal record could ruin this part of the job for him. Generally speaking, having a criminal record certainly doesn’t help you get gigs. It even makes it impossible to get them in some cases. For example, you can’t get a visa for some countries if you have been arrested. And it’s absolutely insane to be arrested for doing your job, especially if it will later prevent you from doing it further.