Last Updated: Thursday, 20 November 2014, 13:54 GMT

Attacks on the Press in 2005 - Haiti

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2006
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2005 - Haiti, February 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c56707c.html [accessed 21 November 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.

Amid civil unrest, political turmoil, and spiraling violence, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere remained a very dangerous place for journalists. The fall of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004 created a political vacuum; street gangs, drug traffickers, corrupt police, ex-soldiers from the disbanded military, and the ousted leader's supporters sought violently to fill it. Journalists found themselves targeted from several directions.

Rising insecurity was the most notable sign that the transitional government led by Prime Minister Gérard Latortue had failed to gain a strong grip on authority. Like the country's interim leaders, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), with 7,500 troops, drew sharp criticism for doing too little to curb frequent kidnappings and killings.

The absence of effective state control endangered journalists covering the turmoil. Robenson Laraque, a reporter with the private radio station Tele Contact in the city of Petit-Goâve, was critically injured during a March 20 clash between U.N. peacekeepers and ex-soldiers. Laraque was covering the gun battle from the balcony of Tele Contact's offices when he was struck by two shots, to the head and neck. Transferred to a hospital in Cuba, he died two weeks later.

Several witnesses reported that the shots appeared to have been fired by U.N. peacekeepers, Wilner Saint-Preux, a Tele Contact journalist, told CPJ. Witnesses also reported that Laraque was holding a microphone when he was shot, Tele Contact editor Fritz Ariel Nelson said. David Beer, the U.N. Civilian Police Commissioner at the time of the skirmish, said U.N. officials were investigating the shooting and would make public their findings. Col. El Ouafi Boulbars, spokesman for the U.N. forces in Haiti, told CPJ in late October that the inquiry was continuing.

Journalists in the capital, Port-au-Prince, severely limited their movements in response to a wave of murders, kidnappings, rapes, and gang-related crimes. People were abducted in broad daylight, and shootings emptied downtown streets. Human rights groups and news organizations reported in the fall that more than 1,000 people had been killed in unrest in Port-au-Prince over the previous 12 months. More than a dozen journalists in Port-au-Prince went into exile.

This blight was reflected in the July 2005 slaying of Jacques Roche, a well-known poet and cultural editor of the Port-au-Prince-based daily Le Matin. Roche was kidnapped and killed; his handcuffed, bullet-ridden body was found in a Port-au-Prince slum. The St. Petersburg Times reported that the kidnappers who seized Roche sold the journalist to a gang that wanted him dead for sympathizing with an anti-Aristide group.

According to Franck Séguy, a colleague at Le Matin, there is wide speculation that Roche may have been killed because he hosted a television show for the 184 Group, a coalition of civil-society organizations that opposed Aristide.

Judge Jean Peres Paul, who is in charge of the investigation, told CPJ that three suspects had been identified and preliminary charges filed. He said he couldn't comment on the possible motive. CPJ is continuing its own inquiries.

Insecurity and corruption further rotted the country's judicial system. Virtually no progress was reported in the government's troubled investigation into the 2000 murder of Jean-Léopold Dominique, owner and director of Radio Haïti Inter and one of the country's most renowned journalists. In March, Minister of Justice Bernard Gousse named a new examining judge to conduct the government's third investigation into the murder. The appointment of Judge Peres Paul came nine months after an appeals court ruled that proceedings had to resume after being stalled for nearly a year.

The Dominique case has been fraught with problems. The first examining judge, Claudy Gassant, fled Haiti in 2002 after being threatened. The next judge, Bernard Saint-Vil, sent a 33-page indictment to prosecutors accusing purported gang members Dymsley Millien, Jeudi-Jean Daniel, Philippe Markington, Ralph Léger, Ralph Joseph, and Freud Junior Desmarattes of the killing. Yet charges were dropped against three of the defendants, and the others escaped from custody. Dominique's wife, Michèle Montas, has called the investigation flawed and said that authorities "failed to charge the masterminds behind the murder." News reports in March said that documents in the Dominique case were missing, but Gousse denied those reports and said the files were intact.

The Haitian press is deeply polarized, and many journalists are seen as having close ties to political factions. Journalists sympathetic to Aristide and the Lavalas political party harshly criticized Haitian authorities for failing to crack down on alleged corruption and human rights violations by police, accusing the interim government of launching a campaign aimed at intimidating the independent media.

Government officials, in turn, criticized several private radio stations for giving airtime to pro-Aristide gangs, called chimères, which dominate Port-au-Prince slums such as Cité Soleil and Bel Air. And Aristide supporters have accused the interim government of jailing hundreds of Lavalas militants without formal charges.

On July 20, Haiti's Council of Ministers directed the ministers of justice, culture, public works, transportation, and communications to "take appropriate measures" against journalists and news outlets providing a forum to slum residents to spread "hate speech," the local media reported. On August 5, more than 10 Port-au-Prince-based radio stations suspended news broadcasting in protest.

Guyler Delva, secretary-general of the Haitian Journalists Association, called the directive "arbitrary" and said that it was an attempt to stifle the press. The interim government did not ultimately impose any sanctions against news outlets.

Haitian journalists have voiced concern that the presidential and legislative elections, planned for 2006, would do little to bring stability to the country. They say that truly free elections cannot take place in a climate of fear.

In September, journalists and media executives representing several private outlets created a new press group called the Association of Independent Media of Haiti. The group included journalists from Radio Mélodie FM, Radio/Teleginen, Radio Solidarité, Télémax, Tropic FM, Chaine 11, Chaine 46, Megastar, Haïti en Marche, and Agence Haïtienne de Presse. The group is expected to monitor press freedom and other journalism issues. A second organization, called SOS Journalistes, was formed to protect and defend the Haitian press. Its leaders include Delva, a Reuters reporter and longtime press advocate.


Killed in 2005 in Haiti

Robenson Laraque, Tele Contact, April 4, Petit-Goâve

Laraque, a reporter with the private radio station Tele Contact, died in a Cuban hospital from injuries suffered while covering a March 20 clash between U.N. troops and members of the disbanded Haitian military in the city of Petit-Goâve. The confrontation began after the ex-soldiers occupied the police station in the southwestern city. The Associated Press reported that three people, including a Sri Lankan peacekeeper, died in the gun battle.

Laraque and several colleagues were on the nearby balcony of Tele Contact's offices, when the journalist was struck by two shots to the head and neck, the AP said. Laraque was taken to a hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, where he received initial care. The injuries were so severe that he was transferred to Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, and later to Cuba.

Wilner Saint-Preux, a journalist for Tele Contact, told CPJ that Laraque and other station reporters were trying to cover the skirmish. Witnesses reported that the shots appeared to have been fired by U.N. peacekeepers, Saint-Preux said. Fritz Ariel Nelson, a Tele Contact editor, said witnesses reported that Laraque was holding a microphone at the time.

David Beer, the U.N. civilian police commissioner in Haiti, told CPJ that the shooting was under investigation. "We take this very seriously," he said in an interview shortly after the journalist's death. "We are trying to determine what happened and which side the bullet came from."

Col. El Ouafi Boulbars, spokesman for the U.N. forces in Haiti, told CPJ in late October that the inquiry was continuing.

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti operates under a U.N. mandate that grants it the authority to "ensure a secure and stable environment within which the constitutional and political process in Haiti can take place" and to "protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence."

Jacques Roche, Le Matin, July 14, Port-au-Prince (motive unconfirmed)

Roche, cultural editor with the Port-au-Prince-based daily Le Matin, was kidnapped on July 10 and found dead four days later in a slum in Haiti's capital. His body was handcuffed, riddled with bullets, and mutilated, according to international press reports.

The journalist was taken from his car in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Nazon, the Haitian press reported. Roche, who was also a poet, hosted a local television station show for the 184 Group, a coalition of civil society organizations that opposed former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. His captors demanded US$250,000 in ransom, The Associated Press said.

The St. Petersburg Times reported that the kidnappers who seized Roche sold the journalist to a gang that wanted him dead for sympathizing with an anti-Aristide group. Franck Séguy, a colleague at Le Matin, told CPJ that there is wide speculation that Roche may have been killed because of his television work for the 184 Group.

Judge Jean Peres Paul, who is charge of the investigation, told CPJ that three suspects had been identified and faced preliminary charges. He said he couldn't comment on the possible motive or disclose the identities of the suspects. Published reports said that on July 21 Haitian authorities arrested the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, a prominent Roman Catholic priest and figure in the Lavalas party of ousted President Aristide. Authorities accused him of involvement in Roche's slaying. The priest was jailed but not immediately charged. Aristide supporters said the priest's detention was politically motivated. Amnesty International labeled Jean-Juste a "prisoner of conscience."

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

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