Andrew Buncombe, the journalist arrested while reporting on protests in Seattle, has said President Donald Trump’s anti-press sentiment has contributed to journalists being targeted across the United States.
Speaking to Press Gazette, the Independent’s chief US correspondent also described the “Alice in Wonderland”-style experience of being detained in a US prison earlier this month.
Buncombe said he has never endured a similar experience, despite working across countries like India, Pakistan and Cuba over many years as a foreign correspondent.
“In terms of being arrested and put in jail? No. No. [I’ve experienced] nothing like this. This was unique,” he told Press Gazette.
“It’s startling. I’m staggered,” he added.
“One of the most strange aspects of what happened to me was almost like this Alice in Wonderland world where you think: what’s going on here? Hang on. Surely at some moment they’re going to realise who I am, and they’re going to realise they’ve made a mistake, and they’re going to let me go.
“But they didn’t. That is one of the things that startled me the most.”
Buncombe, who has a lawyer working on his behalf in Seattle, is now facing the prospect of a court hearing – and beyond that even the potential for jail time or a fine of up to $5,000 (£4,000).
His main priority now is to have the “charges thrown out and my record expunged” so that he does not experience any future problems with working in the US.
On Friday, political pressure was growing on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to intervene on Buncombe’s behalf. The website also reported that the Foreign Office had described the incident as “very concerning”.
The Independent has since reported that the British ambassador to the US has launched an official complaint over Buncombe’s arrest.
“I’m deeply concerned at a number of levels,” Buncombe said. “One, is very self-interested: what is going to happen to me? Am I going to have to go to court? If they do take me to court, I’ll be pleading not guilty. I’m adamant that I did no wrong. That’s hanging over me…
“There’s also a broader issue. Mine isn’t an isolated case. Journalists are getting arrested. Journalists are getting hassled. People are encountering more problems with the police when they’re covering these events. They’re getting tear-gassed, they’re getting pushed out of the way – getting thumped and almost punched in some of those instances… So I think my concerns are: what happens next when I go to a protest?”
Dozens of journalists have been arrested or injured while covering Black Lives Matter protests across the US.
Buncombe, who began his career at the Hull Daily Mail, believes the poor treatment reporters are experiencing has filtered down from President Trump, who regularly berates the mainstream media.
“I have to assume that the President’s words have an impact,” he said. “Routinely, and for the last five years, he’s denounced the media. He’s called the media the enemy – the enemy not only of him but of the people. He’s said that we’re scum. He’s said that we’re terrible people.”
On covering Trump rallies, Buncombe said: “You hear him, don’t you? You hear him call out the media. It’s part of his act. It’s part of his routine. It’s one of the things that gets the loudest cheer.
“The first few times you hear it you almost want to laugh. Clearly he knows what he’s doing, and it’s almost this pantomime thing. And you assume it’s almost part of that act.
“But people get very angry and they get very agitated. And when you speak to them afterwards… they’re really angry. ‘Why would I want to speak to you? You’re fake news. Fake media. You’re just going to make lies up. You’re [not] going to tell the truth about the President. It’s all a witch hunt.’
“And it’s a labour of work to have to convince people sometimes that my intentions are sincere, and I’ve gone to that rally with the intention to speak to them. And if I hadn’t wanted to do my best to present their views and their comments fairly I wouldn’t have bothered.
“Clearly what he says has an impact. And lots of people at the rallies are obviously members of the law enforcement community… And I think that in that context it’s kind of fair to say this is a backdrop. This is the context of what’s happening right now in the United States.”