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U.S. investigative journalists being threatened and harassed overseas for their exposure of government criminal activity - after being driven into exile

Investigative reporters working in the United States have long been subject to harassment and threats against their lives following the publication of their reports on government malfeasance and criminal activity. It is and has been an accepted fact of life and goes with the territory.

However, following the election of George W. Bush and the advent of the "war on terror" along with the passage of the treasonous "Patriot Act," this systematic persecution has been taken to an entirely new level with the Obama administration now directly targeting U.S. reporters who have been forced into exile overseas as a result of assaults and death threats carried out by police and government authorities, doubling down on the Bush-era criminal abuses perpetrated investigative journalists.

U.S. born investigative reporter Janet Phelan has become one of the latest victims and target of U.S. government harassment and persecution following her exit from the country after being assaulted by members of the Long Beach, California Police Department, leaving her hospitalised and in a coma in 2003. She considers herself lucky to have survived.

“I thought things would get better for me after I survived the assault. After all, I figured they took their best shot.” Phelan recently said.

As with many journalists who have fled the country following near-fatal incidents she believed that in leaving the country of her birth it would be the end of her problems, and as most she was quick to realise she was mistaken.

"When I recovered sufficiently," Phelan said, "I attempted to file a report with Internal Affairs. I fingered Officer Loren Dawson as one of the perpetrators."

She was told by IA that she was "not allowed" to contact the department.

Janet Phelan

Janet Phelan

According to Phelan, her situation in Mexico “blew up” following the 2014 publication of her book, EXILE.

The book recounts the story of the murder of her mother, Dr. Amalie Phelan and the circumstances surrounding the aftermath.

"There has been no justice for my mother and no justice for me," she declares.

The publication of her story resulted in a virtual bullseye being painted on her back by vengeful government and police authorities. The book details attempts of chemical assassination against her and also delves into her investigative reporting, which focuses mainly on biological weapons and eugenics issues.

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In May of 2015 Phelan contacted the Ecuador Embassy in Mexico City requesting an appointment to discuss an application for asylum. In her communications with embassy officials, she specifically requested that Ecuador not make contact regarding her request with Mexico or the U.S. State Department as she feared increased harassment would be the result of her inquiry.

In a letter dated May 24, 2015, she asked the Ambassador of Ecuador to keep her communications confidential. After thanking him for his interest in her situation, she wrote:

“I must now request that you keep our communications between us and not involve the United States or Mexican governments. My fear of retaliation is realistic and profound. I therefore must insist on your absolute discretion."

When no reply was forthcoming, Phelan telephoned the Embassy.

An official in political affairs stiffly informed her that they were inquiring about her story of endangerment in Mexico with the Mexican government.

The official then informed Phelan that it would be “months” until they had an answer for her.

“They sure weren't checking out any of this with me,” said Phelan.

Mexico has long had a policy of deporting journalists who "cause trouble," and Phelan states there was one sentence in her communications with the Ecuador Embassy which, if related to the Mexican authorities, might provide “cause” to deport her back to the US.

As with many other American journalists who have been forced to flee as a result of their reporting, Phelan knew her decision was irrevocable.

“I simply cannot risk going back to the U.S.,” said Phelan. “After what already happened to me there, well, it is a miracle I am still alive.”

“I only asked Ecuador for an appointment,” she states. “I had no idea they would burn me like this. Everything I told them was the truth. So if one is at risk in one country, and asks for help from another country and that country is cooperating with the abuser country, where does one go?”

Phelan also said that following disclosure by the official in the Ecuador Embassy that they had violated her request for confidentiality, she paid up her rent in Mexico in advance and fled once again, this time to Central America.

In her letter to the Ecuador Embassy dated May 24, 2015, Phelan stated she only wanted to be able to live and work in peace. She wrote “I trust you will not put my life and my journalistic efforts in danger, efforts which have already born the fruit of helping other persecuted individuals and bringing to public attention systemic human rights violations. There is still so much to be done and I simply seek a safe environment in which to continue on with my work.” Phelan is currently a foreign correspondent for the Russian publication New Eastern Outlook based in Moscow.

Phelan is now once more travelling down the road that many self-exiled American investigative journalists overseas who have dared to expose government criminality find themselves on, uprooted yet again and travelling a long, lonely path with the future relegated to a question mark.

Robert S. Finnegan
Fifth Estate