In the wee hours of this morning news broke on Twitter that a protester going by the Twitter handle of @frogsarelovely had been arrested. Her real name is Cécile Riel, a 55 year old Montreal resident.
Riel is a popular and well respected supporter of the student strike, who has attended virtually every demo since its beginning. She live tweets from every protest, providing invaluable first-hand updates and information for those unable to attend.
She is the very definition of an engaged citizen journalist, using new media to report on the demonstrations in real time for a global audience.
Her last tweet on the night of the 23rd came at roughly 9 p.m., and noted that there were fewer than 20 people at the demonstration.
She was arrested shortly after, and held until just after six this morning. After nine hours of detention she was finally released with a promise to appear in court on the 7th of September. According to a spokesperson for the SPVM who spoke to rabble, she is being charged with uttering death threats towards a police officer on the 22nd. This charge comes with a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
An SPVM media relations agent last night told rabble that the incident in question happened during the night demonstration on the 22nd. An assertion that was repeated by an SPVM spokesperson contacted by rabble today. This would be quite a feat, considering she did not attend the night demo that evening.
When pressed, the SPVM spokesperson revised his statement and said that the incident had in fact occured at 5:15 p.m., not during the night demo.
rabble spoke to Riel a few hours after her release, and she insists that she never threatened anyone. Two witnesses who were with Riel at the time in question confirmed to rabble that they heard nothing resembling a threat.
Marco Simonsen Sereda said he was with her at the time. “I did not hear any threats, I have no reason to believe she made any threats”. “She’s much loved”, he continued, “and with good reason. She’s a hero.”
Marc Renaud was also with Riel and Serada, and confirms that she said nothing that could be interpreted as a threat. “I mean c’mon, she’s a fifty-five year old lady, she would never do such a thing”.
This is not her first encounter with the police, as she has previously been ticketed for protesting twice (yes, that is now a ticketable offence under municipal bylaw P-6 and Law 12) and was thrown to the ground and roughed up by police while being ticketed last Friday, according to her and multiple witnesses. This incident left her with injuries to her arm and neck.
Riel asserted that she felt targetted for her activism. “It’s a pattern of harrasment, and the rules have changed since the election call. In the last two weeks things have gotten much, much worse. The police really seem to be losing it, they think they can do whatever they want. They scare people, they scare me”. She quotes a cop telling her during her arrest, “that’s your last manif”.
Riel explained that she was initially told her phone would be confiscated, and only returned to her on Tuesday. She was finally able to negotiate its return, but it had been opened and investigated by police.
News of the arrest set off a firestorm on Twitter late Thursday evening, where she is a universally beloved figure in the pro-strike community. The hashtag #freefrogsarelovely was quickly born, and within an hour it was the number 1 trending topic in Montreal, despite the late hour.
Most posters categorically rejected the accusations, pointing to her sterling reputation and belief in non-violence.
Many on Twitter suggested that she had been targeted for her activism, constant presence at demos and reporting. By all accounts she is a peaceful and unthreatening protester and citizen journalist who has been repeatedly targeted by police for dubious reasons. First being issued several tickets and now being charged with the serious crime of uttering threats.
She may not wear a press pass or write for a major publication, but I know I’ve often depended on her on-the-ground updates to monitor protests I couldn’t attend. I know many other journos have too. It’s hard to believe the polite, respectful and reasonable person we’ve all followed for months is capable of threatening anyone.
Follow me on Twitter for the latest news @EthanCoxMTL