Reporter arrested 'for trying to ask Donald Trump's health secretary a question'

Dan Heyman says he was 'doing his job' with question over protection for domestic violence victims

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The Independent US

A journalist has been arrested after attempting to question Donald Trump’s health secretary over controversial healthcare reforms.

Dan Heyman said he was detained for “doing my job” as Tom Price and presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway visited the West Virginia State Capitol.

He had followed Mr Price as he entered the building, holding out his phone to record while repeatedly asking whether domestic violence would be considered a “pre-existing condition” barring affected women from receiving health insurance.

The US Secretary of Heath did not reply but minutes later, Mr Heyman was handcuffed by police and taken away.

“He didn’t say anything, so I persisted,” said the journalist, who is a health specialist at the non-profit Public News Service (PNS).

“At some point I think they decided I was just too persistent in asking this question and trying to do my job – so they arrested me.”

Mr Heyman said he was holding his phone out towards Mr Price to record audio and was not doing anything that could be considered violent. 

He was detained on the charge of “wilful disruption of state government processes” and was released on a $5,000 bail (£3,900). 

A criminal complaint seen by the Washington Post accused Mr Heyman of “aggressively breaching” an area protected by Secret Service agents and “causing a disturbance by yelling questions at Ms Conway and Secretary Price”.

“It’s first time I’ve ever seen anyone arrested for asking a question,” said Mr Heyman, who has been a reporter for 30 years.

tom-price.jpg
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, after the House pushed through a health care bill. (AP)

“I think it’s a terrible example, I think it’s dreadful. 

“This is my job, this is what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to go and find out if somebody is going to be affected by this healthcare law.”

Early proposals for “Trumpcare” have hit hurdles in Congress amid controversy over the definition of some pre-existing conditions, although supporters have emphasised that states already have protections in place for victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse. 

Senate Democrats leader Chuck Schumer said the bill currently being considered by the House is “discriminatory against women” amid anger over an all-male working group on health policy.

Mr Price and Ms Conway had been visiting Charleston to discuss efforts to combat opioid addiction in West Virginia, meeting privately with local politicians and representatives from groups including an addition centre and helpline.

Mr Heyman had been interviewing protesters outside before their arrival and said he was not informed that he was in the wrong place, while wearing a Capitol press pass and shirt bearing his employer’s logo.

His lawyer, Tim de Piero, described the complaint against his client as “really bizarre”.

“I’ve never had a client arrested for talking too loud or anything similar to that,” he told an informal press conference.

“He had no intention of doing anything but asking a tough question. He persisted in asking that question and we just don’t understand why he got arrested, it seems way over the top.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia said Mr Heyman’s arrest was part of a “dangerous time” for freedom of the press, citing the President’s attacks on “fake news”.

“Mr Heyman’s arrest is a blatant attempt to chill an independent, free press,” a spokesperson said.

“The charges against him are outrageous, and they must be dropped immediately.

“What President Trump’s administration is forgetting, and what the Capitol Police forgot today, is that the government works for us. Today was a dark day for democracy.” 

At least 15 journalists have been arrested in US this year, according to a count by the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

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