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Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Haiti

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2004
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Haiti, February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566a41c.html [accessed 22 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Nearly a decade after the United States restored Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in an attempt to encourage democracy there, Haitian journalists continued to face routine threats, harassment, and physical violence, while perpetrators of these attacks were rarely punished.

The murders of two prominent Haitian journalists in recent years, the flight of dozens of others into exile, and ongoing attacks against those still working in the country have made Haiti one of the most violent places to practice journalism in the Western Hemisphere, second only to Colombia, according to CPJ research.

On March 21, Judge Bernard Saint-Vil charged six men with the murder of outspoken radio broadcaster Jean Léopold Dominique, owner and director of Radio Haïti-Inter, who was gunned down in April 2000. The men had already been in jail for more than two years on suspicion of involvement in the killing.

On April 3, Dominque's widow, Michèle Montas, who has run Radio Haïti-Inter since his death, appealed the indictments, saying the investigation into her husband's killing was "incomplete," and that the indictments "failed to charge the masterminds behind the murder." On August 3, Haiti's Court of Appeals ordered a new investigation and released three of the six men accused of the killing. A new examining magistrate, who had not yet been selected by year's end, will conduct another investigation.

On February 22, Radio Haïti-Inter stopped broadcasting indefinitely because of constant threats and harassment of its staff. The closure came not long after a December 25, 2002, assassination attempt against Montas at her home, during which one of her bodyguards was killed. After Montas closed the station, she and journalists Jean Roland Chery, Immacula Placide, Guerlande Eloi, Pierre Emmanuel, and Gigi Dominique left Haiti to live in exile. Meanwhile, the December 2002 attack remains unsolved.

The investigation into the murder of journalist Brignol Lindor, who was hacked to death by a pro-government, machete-wielding mob on December 3, 2001, showed no progress in 2003. All but one of the 10 men indicted for Lindor's killing had been released by year's end.

Six of seven threatened radio journalists in Gonaïves, a town northwest of the capital, Port-au-Prince, fled Haiti in February, fearing for their lives. Radio Etincelle owner Esdras Mondélus remains in the country, but he went into hiding in December 2002 after receiving death threats from a pro-government militia, or popular organization, known as the "Cannibal Army."

After the mutilated body of the gang's leader, Amiot "Cuban" Métayer, was discovered on September 22, violent protests erupted in Gonaïves, his hometown, and other cities, including Port-au-Prince. The slain leader's supporters in the militia group accused the government of murdering him and demanded that President Aristide resign.

The popular organizations, which have close ties to both the Aristide administration and the ruling Fanmi Lavalas party, continued to target journalists who criticized the government, accusing them of working for the opposition. Using methods ranging from death threats to physical attacks, these groups enjoy virtual immunity and are heavily involved in arms trafficking and the drug trade, according to CPJ sources. In one chilling incident in April, one of these organizations sent a 12 mm bullet cartridge in a letter to prominent radio reporter Lilianne Pierre-Paul, the journalist told CPJ.

Given Haiti's 55 percent illiteracy rate, radio is the country's most popular communications medium. Between 150 and 200 stations operate nationwide, but 10 Port-au-Prince-based stations garner much of the nation's audience. Radio coverage reflects the extremely polarized political situation in the country. Many stations are partisan, and they broadcast reports that are either blatantly pro-government or pro-opposition. The government denounces independent stations, calling their coverage reckless. Authorities also argue that the stations air insults against the president and other officials.

Despite all the difficulties journalists face, they continue to work, covering potentially dangerous street protests and political meetings. Nonetheless, reporters avoid delving deeply into sensitive issues. "There is so much corruption in Haiti, and there are so many shadowy interests that reporters who dare investigate such cases would be killed," said Max Chauvet, owner of Haiti's major daily, Le Nouvelliste.

Television news in Haiti is equally partisan. According to Guyler Delva, a reporter with Le Nouvelliste and the secretary-general of the Association of Haitian Journalists, the country's four TV stations, with the exception of the cable network Télé Haïti, are government-controlled. When an Aristide loyalist purchased the last independent channel, Télémax, in May, most Haitians were left with no independent TV stations. Journalists complain that the government exploits its control over television stations for propaganda and to attack the independent press.

In August, a CPJ delegation that included Executive Director Ann Cooper, Americas Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría, and board members Franz Allina, Clarence Page, and Paul C. Tash visited Haiti and met with journalists and top government officials, including President Aristide, to discuss press freedom concerns. During the five-day visit, CPJ confirmed the risks that Haitian journalists face while working in an intimidating environment. Prime Minister Yvon Néptune agreed to report on the status of judicial investigations into press freedom abuses documented by CPJ and respond within 30 days after CPJ sent him a letter on September 18. By year's end, CPJ had received no response.


2003 Documented Cases – Haiti

FEBRUARY 14, 2003

Jean-Numa Goudou, Radio Métropole
ATTACKED

A group of alleged government supporters tried to set fire to the house of Goudou, a political reporter with Port-au-Prince­based Radio Métropole, by burning a vehicle parked in his garage. No one was injured.

At around 12 p.m., the group visited Goudou's house in Carrefour, a southwestern suburb of Port-au-Prince, and asked to see him. But Goudou, who also works for the news agency Haiti Press Network, was not there. The group returned late that night and burned a car parked in his garage. Neighbors managed to put out the fire.

Radio Métropole News Director François Rothschild told CPJ that most of the station's reporters had received threats weeks before the attack. In protest, Radio Métropole staged an information blackout on Tuesday, February 18, and did not broadcast.

APRIL 30, 2003

Lilianne Pierre-Paul, Radio Kiskeya
THREATENED

Pierre-Paul, co-owner and program director of the independent, Port-au-Prince­based Radio Kiskeya, received a threatening letter containing a 12 mm bullet cartridge and demanding that she read a statement on the air calling on France to pay Haiti US$21.7 million to compensate for the amount that Haiti paid the French government in 1938 for recognition of Haiti's independence.

According to CPJ sources, the letter was signed by pro-government militias, including the "Cannibal Army" and "Domi Nan Bwa," which are close to the ruling Fanmi Lavalas party. The militias are the most visible threats to journalists in Haiti, continuously harassing and intimidating members of the media and accusing them of "working for the opposition."

Pierre-Paul said she has been receiving death threats since 2001, mostly by mail. The letters, usually anonymous, accuse her of corruption and working for the opposition.

Police said they were investigating the threats but have not made any arrests. Pierre-Paul was offered police protection, but she refused. "I want to walk freely and do my job without any interference. I won't be able to do it with a bodyguard protecting me," she said.

On January 9, 2001, Pierre-Paul received a threat during a press conference. Paul Raymond, leader of the pro­Fanmi Lavalas religious organization Ti Kominote Legliz, read names from a list of people he claimed were planning to form a shadow government. The list included Pierre-Paul. Raymond gave those mentioned three days to distance themselves from the alleged plot, threatening violence if they did not comply.

That same day, an unidentified individual tried to set Radio Kiskeya's offices on fire. In September 2002, the station was forced to go off the air after receiving information that unidentified individuals were going to burn it down.

SEPTEMBER 20, 2003

James Thomas, Radio Kiskeya
Wilson Ovinsky, Radio Métropole
Rodrigue Tiraud, Caraïbes FM
Elysee Melchior, Radio Vision 2000
Rocher Claudy Israel, Radio Ginnen
Joseph Remy, Radio Plus
THREATENED

Thomas, Ovinsky, Tiraud, Melchior, Israel, and Remy – correspondents from six independent, pro-government Port-au-Prince­based radio stations – received anonymous death threats after the stations broadcast programs during which residents of Mirebalais, a city in the Lower Plateau Central Area, northeast of Haiti's capital, criticized the city's police force for numerous cases of abuse, according to CPJ sources.

After the broadcast, armed police agents began to intimidate the journalists, according to local press reports. Richard Wiedmaier, General Director of Radio Métropole, told CPJ that for several days the correspondents could not do their jobs. Police Superintendent Josaphat Civil accused them of damaging the police's reputation. "The journalists received death threats, and some of them were visited by police officers at their homes," said Marvel Dandin, news director of Radio Kiskeya.

SEPTEMBER 30, 2003
Posted: January 29, 2004

Jean Louis Kenson, Signal FM
Calas Alex, Radio Lakansyèl
Joel Deriphonse, Kadans FM
Joseph Desrameaux, Radio Phare
ATTACKED

Kenson, Alex, Deriphonse, and Desrameaux-journalists from four privately owned radio stations in the capital, Port-au-Prince-were injured when supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide threw rocks at them, disrupting a meeting of 184 civil society groups that were gathered to discuss social problems in Haiti.

About 300 people, representing labor, business, and human rights groups, had scheduled a meeting in Cité Soleil, a neighborhood that is an Aristide stronghold, to discuss the deteriorating political and economic situation in Haiti, according to local press reports.

The civil society groups started a motorcade from the airport. While entering Cité Soleil, they encountered more than 1,000 Aristide partisans who tried to block the caravan and threw rocks at the passing vehicles.

As a result of the attack, two of the journalists were hospitalized. Desrameaux suffered head injuries, and Alex had two broken ribs. Both were released after being treated for their wounds, according to Guyler Delva, secretary-general of the Association of Haitian Journalists.

OCTOBER 28, 2003
Posted: October 31, 2003

Radio Caraïbes
ATTACKED

At around 8:30 p.m. on October 28, unidentified assailants opened fire on the offices of independent station Radio Caraïbes, located in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, damaging the front of the building and a car belonging to a reporter. No one was injured.

Caraïbes protested the attack by suspending newscasts on Wednesday. It plans to resume broadcast on Monday, November 3.

Local press reports cited witnesses who said the gunmen were driving a vehicle with official license plates. Mario Dupuy, Haiti's secretary of state for communications, said that the vehicle used in the incident belonged to the state and could have been stolen.

NOVEMBER 12, 2003
Posted: November 19

Radio Pyramide
ATTACKED

Antigovernment activists attacked and set fire to the privately owned, pro-government station Radio Pyramide, in the west-coast town of St. Marc. Although no one was seriously injured, the station was forced off the air and its owner, Fritson Orius, fled to Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, in fear of his life.

The incident occurred hours after Haiti's Telecommunications Council (CONATEL) closed the opposition radio station Tête-à-Tête for allegedly functioning without the proper legal authorization.

The Haitian government claims that the station was not closed for political reasons, but the move angered opposition activists. Armed members of a pro-opposition popular organization called Ramicos burst into Pyramide's offices and smashed its equipment, according to CPJ sources. After the staff ran from the building, the angry mob set fire to the station.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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