On September 28, Estado de São Paulo's Washington correspondent Cláudia Trevisan was arrested at Yale University's law school for criminal trespassing and spent several hours incommunicado in a New Haven jail. She was trying to interview Brazilian Supreme Court Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa, who was attending a private event at the university. At a time when U.S.-Brazil relations are at a low--following the NSA spying revelations, Dilma's subsequent postponement of her U.S. state visit, and the Brazilian president's stern words for Obama at the UN this week--the incident comes at a particularly sensitive time.
I called the Communications Director of YLS, Janet Conroy, and asked if I could attend the seminar. She said no. She also said it would take place in a private building. I told her I had to go anyway and would wait for [Barbosa] on the sidewalk.
I arrived in New Haven around 3:30pm and went to Yale Law School. When I entered the building, I asked the security lady if she knew where the seminar was being held. She said there was no information about it in the system and told me I could look in the rooms to see if I could find it. She did not ask for identification.
I walked through the Law School corridors, went to the cafeteria, sat in the courtyard and realized the seminar was not in that building. I left and went to Wooley Hall..about two blocks away. Its doors were wide open...Nobody to ask for information. No security. I went to the upper floor and saw a policeman. I went straight to him and asked if the seminar was being held there. My intention was to make sure and wait for the minister outside. I did not attempt to enter the room where the event was happening.
The policeman did not answer my question and asked me to follow him, which I did. Back on the ground floor he began to interrogate me. What is your address, phone number, date of birth. I gave him my passport. I did not identify myself as a journalist, but said I was looking for Minister Barbosa and intended to wait for him outside the building. We walked to one of the doors and when we were walked out I asked for my passport back. He refused to give it to me.
That was the only moment when I lost my temper. "You cannot do that," I said. And he replied: "Yes, I can. We know who you are, you are a reporter, we have your picture and you were told several times that you could not be here."
I said that I had only spoken once with somebody from Yale, that morning. In reply, he informed me I was going to be arrested under the charge of criminal trespassing. Two policewomen arrived and stayed by my side, while the guy, named DeJesus, disappeared for a while. He came back about 20 minutes later, told me to stand with my back to him and put my hands behind my back. I was handcuffed while he screamed: "You know why you are being arrested, no?" and I replied: "No, I don’t know." He said: "You were told several times not to be here." Me: “No, I was not." He said: “That is what happens when there are high-profile people involved."
The full Estadão article also notes that Trevisan was in touch with Barbosa himself ahead of the event, and Barbosa told her he didn't want to talk to press. She told him she'd come anyway and wait outside the event. After her arrest, Trevisan said: "I spent five years in China, I've traveled to North Korea and Myanmar, and nothing remotely like this happened to me."
While the arrest has caused outrage in Brazil, it hasn't so much as caused a blip here in the United States, as of Saturday afternoon. Were it the other way around, with an American reporter arrested at a Brazilian university, that wouldn't be the case.
There's also a second complication. Though Trevisan was arrested for trespassing, a colleague from Folha de São Paulo, who also wanted to interview Barbosa, was also at Yale. According to Folha, the journalist identified him or herself, was told he or she couldn't come in the building, and was escorted by a police officer to the street. The journalist was also told he or she risked arrest if he or she tried to reenter the building. So the reporter waited outside.
Why is it that one reporter was arrested, and the other was simply escorted out of the building?
The problem is that with no U.S. coverage and most of the Brazilian coverage simply rehashing Estadão's version of the story, there's been no second or third source, no interviews with witnesses or bystanders, or anything of the sort--essentially no independent reporting. Estadão has a list of questions it wants answered by the university, but they have yet to be answered.
I asked for a statement from the university today, and received the same one that Trevisan also posted on her blog. Here's their statement:
Before she came to the Yale Campus on September 26 to attempt to interview Justice Barbosa, Ms. Trevisan was told that the Global Constitutionalism Seminar attended by Justice Barbosa was a private event closed to the public and the media, and that she was not permitted on Yale property. She came onto Yale property, entered the Law School without permission, and proceeded to enter another building where the attendees of the Seminar were meeting. When asked why she was in the building, she stated that she was looking for a friend she was supposed to meet. She was arrested for trespassing. The police followed normal procedures and Ms. Trevisan was not mistreated in any way. Although the arrest for trespass was justified, the university does not plan to pursue the charge with the local prosecutor. The Law School and Yale University accommodate hundreds of journalists in the course of a year at public campus events and for interviews with members of the Yale community and visitors. As with all journalists, Ms. Trevisan is welcome to attend any public event at Yale and speak with anyone who wishes to grant her an interview.
When I asked a Yale press officer about the Folha reporter, this was his response:
There was a reporter who came to the law school, identified himself and was told that he could not enter for the seminar. He said he would wait outside on the street. He did not enter any building without permission. I do not know if that is the reporter you are asking about.
Fundamentally, the question remains: was it necessary or even legal to arrest Trevisan? Couldn't she have just been escorted off campus with a warning not to come back? Was there a different security arrangement for this particular event that warranted stricter rules? Are there missing details to this story that can be filled in by witnesses or the arresting officer? I'm hoping some intrepid reporters, either Brazilian or American, find the answers. Because a journalist was involved, it's even more reason for good journalism to be done.
UPDATE 1: The Guardian has an article out, but it doesn't add any new details. It mentions that Trevisan accuses Yale of "extremely violent behavior," which judging by both accounts doesn't seem to be the case, other than being handcuffed.
UPDATE 2: Gawker has a summary of several of the reports. Their reporter tried unsuccessfully to speak to the Yale Police Department. She added:
Yale says that because the seminar was a private event closed to the public and the media, Trevisan was not permitted on Yale property. This raises an interesting question since Trevisan claims that the building was open to the general public — and that she was singled out as a journalist merely for entering to ask a cop if she was in the right place. Legally, she was probably fine on the sidewalk, while the building would probably be classified as a "limited public forum". If other tourists and non-members of the seminar were permitted to ask the cop inside for help or directions, arresting Trevisan for engaging in the same behavior while being a journalist could be illegal.
UPDATE 3: Following the arrest, Justice Barbosa said that he was sorry about Trevisan's arrest, and said "she was only doing her job."
UPDATE 4: The New Haven Independent has one of the most complete reports on the incident. It notes that Yale Law School Dean Robert Post was the one who asked for Trevisan to be released and have the charges against her dropped. It also has some good quotes from Trevisan:
On Barbosa: "He’s a public person. His salary is paid by the state. I thought we had all the right to know where he is and what he has done.”
On going to Yale: “I had no intention to attend the seminar itself. I knew I was not welcomed. But I needed to make sure to know on which sidewalk to wait.”
It also includes a second statement from Yale released Sunday night, as follows:
“Ms. Trevisan sought to gain entry to the private gathering by misrepresenting herself to the Yale Police officer who was providing security at the event, claiming to be ‘'looking for a friend.' The event was being held in a private room in a university building outside the law school. Although the first floor of this building is generally accessible to the public, this event was taking place on the second floor in a private room. Staff who were present identified Ms. Trevisan as having previously been informed of the private nature of the event. Because of her attempts to enter the private meeting and because she misrepresented her intentions to a police officer, Ms. Trevisan was escorted from the building and arrested for trespassing."
On the Folha reporter, Yale said: "He agreed respectfully to wait on public property to interview those participants who wished to speak to the press.”
Image: Yale Law School. Flickr user Stepnout.