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Opinion Nation contributor ejected from Helsinki presser says he was jailed

A security official removes Nation contributor Sam Husseini before the news conference Monday between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva via AP)
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Just moments after Nation contributor Sam Husseini got in trouble with authorities at Monday’s Helsinki summit, his alleged offense hit the airwaves. “Heckling,” reported NBC News’s Kelly O’Donnell. A CBS News White House correspondent said, “It started when he was heckling those of us who were in the middle of reporting and two members of the security detail confronted him about it.”

Husseini denied the allegation in an interview Tuesday with the Erik Wemple Blog. “I was not heckling,” said Husseini, who attended the event as a contributor for the Nation and works as a senior analyst with the Institute for Public Accuracy. Rather than heckle, Husseini said, he and others in his seating area were “making wisecracks” about the reports from major TV networks as they “did their Russiagate recaps for the hundred-millionth time before the event.”

Whatever the circumstances, live television covered the upshot: First Husseini was escorted from the area; then he returned and held up a sign saying “Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty.” Security personnel thereupon converged upon Husseini, muscling and tussling with him. He was not going to witness this historic event.

The idea behind the sign, Husseini told the Erik Wemple Blog, was not to protest anything. Rather, it was to engage Trump’s famous impulsiveness. “I thought he might take a question on nuclear policy if left to his own devices,” Husseini said.

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That was a strategic miscalculation on the world stage. Once he was ejected from the presser area, Husseini was confined to a “dungeon”-like room, he said, where he was closely watched. “I believe it was directly under the hall that everybody was in,” he said. He was placed in a seat and when he tried to get up to leave, “I was pushed back down.” After an hour or so in that room, Husseini was taken outside the building, where he declared, “This is freedom of the press in Finland.” Authorities threw him to the ground and proceeded to cuff his hands and legs — all of which was done “roughly,” Husseini said. He was taken to a jail, where he sat in a cell for about five hours.

He was released about midnight, he said. The Erik Wemple Blog has requested a comment from the Finnish Embassy.

The Nation has an interesting record on contemporary Russian matters. As this blog noted last year, the magazine conducted a high-level review of a story that used flimsy evidence to cast doubt on official claims that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Journalists who contribute to the Nation sent a letter to management complaining about the magazine’s tilt. “I just felt that for some reason, we are too heavily invested in the defense of Putin and all his works,” columnist Katha Pollitt told this blog at the time. A federal indictment released last week provides extensive detail alleging that 12 members of a Russian federation intelligence agency carried out the operation.

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