News ID: 208190
Published: 0817 GMT January 16, 2018

One year under Trump: A shrinking space for protests

One year under Trump: A shrinking space for protests
More than 185 people still face an array of charges over their alleged involvement in anti-Trump protests on Inauguration Day (ILLUSTRATION/JAWAHIR HASSAN AL-NAIMI]

For 11 months, Oliver Harris' life came to a near standstill as he waited to find out if he would be sent to prison for years over his alleged participation in a rally against US President Donald Trump's inauguration.

Harris, 28, was among more than 230 people rounded up and arrested by police on January 20, Inauguration Day, after confrontations with heavily armed riot police officers. A small group of people engaged in property damage during the rally, Al Jazeera reported.

The following day, most of those who were arrested — demonstrators, medics, journalists and bystanders — were charged with felony rioting, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

In April, things grew worse for 212 of the defendants when the District of Columbia Superior Court returned a superseding indictment that added a slew of additional charges, including several felonies.

The accused, who are known collectively as the ‘J20 defendants’, were all of a sudden facing nearly eight decades — effectively a life sentence — behind bars.

Several defendants subsequently reached plea deals for significantly lighter sentences, while others had their charges dropped.

At least seven defendants had their charges reduced to misdemeanors.

By the time the first batch of defendants, which included Harris, went to trial, the charges had been reduced, but they were still facing the prospect of more than 50 years of jail time.

On December 21, however, a jury found Harris, a Pennsylvania resident, and his five codefendants not-guilty on all counts.

"It was really overwhelming to hear 42 not guilty [decisions]," Harris told Al Jazeera by phone.


Yvette Felarca (right) vows to fight charges against her (ERIC RISBERG/AP)

The DC US Attorney's Office subsequently said in a statement it would pursue charges against the remaining defendants.

Anti-Trump protester: “Is this my last free birthday?”

With 188 Inauguration Day defendants still at risk of harsh punishment, and other activists across the country facing potential jail time for alleged infractions during protests, critics say Trump has overseen a crackdown on dissent during his first year in office.

Across the US, from Washington, DC, to Sacramento, California, anti-racists, anti-fascists, leftists and other demonstrators have been charged with felonies and misdemeanors.


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