Attacks and threats continued against journalists who criticised President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The climate of terror was sustained by the continuing impunity in the cases of two murdered journalists. Aristide extended his control over television but radio continued to be the most popular news media.
The situation deteriorated steadily throughout the year, becoming more and more anarchic. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide clung to power by relying on gang-members known as "chimères," organised into militia known as "popular organisations" with the task for sustaining a climate of terror in the ranks of the opposition and the press. His regime was further discredited by the appearance of "Special Brigades, " a parallel police force which, like the "Tontons Macoutes" under the Duvaliers (1957-86) and the "Attachés" under Gen. Cédras (1991-94), did the regime's dirty work (torture and executions) and extorted money from the population.
Like the dictators he had fought in the past, Aristide, the former shantytown priest, cracked down in response to protest. Several dozen people were killed or wounded by chimères during demonstrations calling for his departure that steadily increased in size. The press was also the victim of violence. Reporters Without Borders registered some 30 cases of attacks or threats against journalists in 2003, and this was not exhaustive.
The journalists were usually injured while covering demonstrations. But some of the violence was targeted. Chimères went to the home of journalist Goudou Jean-Numa and tried to set it on fire, and then went to the home of the mother of fellow-journalist Nancy Roc and fired shots at that. As a result of the persecution, another ten journalists went into exile in 2003. Several radio stations went off the air for varying periods as a sign of protest or to avoid possible attack, but this had no effect on the situation.
This climate of terror imposed on the population and the press was based on the impunity enjoyed by its perpetrators. Those responsible for the April 2000 murder of journalist Jean Dominique and the December 2001 murder of journalist Brignol Lindor were for the most part left alone. Indeed, hopes of justice in 2003 shrank even further in these two cases in which government associates have been implicated.
The investigating judge's conclusions in the Dominique case did not identify any instigator and Dominique's widow, Michèle Montas, was forced to close their radio station and go into exile after new threats against the station. Lindor's family was denied the plaintiff status it needed to formally challenge the results of the investigation while several witnesses were forced to leave the country after receiving threats. Both families continued their fight from exile and, for her relentless battle against impunity, Montas received the 2003 Reporters Without Borders – Fondation de France Prize for a press freedom activist.
The journalists who were victims were virtually all radio reporters or presenters. This was above all because – with more than 240 FM stations covering the entire country – radio is the most popular media. Furthermore, in a country in which 65 per cent of the population is illiterate, few read the print media. Finally, television was almost entirely controlled by the government after an Aristide associate bought the TV station Télé Max at the end of 2002. The other privately-owned channels, Tele Ti Moun and Télé Eclair, were already under his thumb, as was the state-owned Télévision Nationale d'Haïti. Only Télé Haïti was still independent. But it was a pay TV station only available in Port-au-Prince and offering few news programmes.
The purchase of Télé Max showed that money was the government's other method of controlling the press. Bidry Dorsainvil, a Cap-Haïtien journalist who fled to France, said Aristide distributed money to journalists to ensure favourable coverage when he made a trip to the north of the country. Another exiled journalist, Philomé Robert, said he was offered a good salary to join the national palace press service when he was working for Radio Vision 2000. Employees who "deserted" Radio Ti Moun and Tele Ti Moun – two stations owned by the Aristide Foundation – gave a revealing glimpse of what it was like to work for pro-government media.
The international community, which had frozen its aid ever since the rigging of the May 2000 legislative elections, continued to press for the holding of new elections and an end to the violence. The situation became even more chaotic when some of the popular organisations turned against Aristide after one of their leaders was murdered because he had apparently become an embarrassment for the government.
The Cannibal Army, based in Gonaïves, 177 km north of the capital, renamed itself the Artibonite Front for Revolutionary Resistance after its leader, Amiot Métayer, was found with both eyes shot out in what was seen as a message to those who, like him, had been the perpetrators or witnesses of the regime's crimes. The Organisation of American States had called for Métayer's arrest because of his political crimes, and his close associates said he had been about to make revelations about Jean Dominique's murder. UN special rapporteur for Haiti Louis Joinet said: "The situation is serious, very serious. And it could become extremely serious."
New information about journalists killed before 2003
Simone Louis, the wife of Géraud Louis, left Haiti with her four children on 31 August 2003. Her husband was the cousin of Brignol Lindor, the journalist killed in December 2001. The day the murder took place, Géraud Louis and another cousin, Dominique Jean, went to the scene to recover the body. Since then, the family has repeatedly been the target of intimidation. Jean also left Haiti in 2003 as did Arbrun Alezi, the manager of Echo 2000, the radio station Lindor worked for, and Emmanuel Espoir Clédanor, who was with Lindor when he was killed.
On the judicial front, the Port-au-Prince appeal court ruled on 27 March that it could not consider the appeal filed by the Lindor family against the investigating judge's conclusions because the family was not registered as a plaintiff. The family had wanted the investigation reopened. Its lawyer, Jean-Joseph Exumé, appealed against the appeal court's ruling. In his conclusions issued on 16 September 2002, the investigating judge had indicted 10 people for their role in the murder but only one of them was detained – and that was in connection with another case.
He did not indict former Petit-Goâve deputy mayor Dumay Bony although Bony had called for the use of "zero tolerance" against the "terrorist" Lindor three days before his murder. Bony had issued this call two days after Lindor invited opposition leaders to take part in his radio programme "Dialogue." The term "zero tolerance" is usually understood in Haiti to mean summary execution or lynching.
A journalist based in Petit-Goâve, west of the capital, Lindor was stoned and hacked to death with machetes on 3 December 2001 by members of Dòmi Nan Bwa, a popular organisation linked to the ruling Fanmi Lavalas party. They subsequently claimed responsibility for the killing in the presence of Joseph Guyler Delva of the Association of Haitian Journalists (AJH).
The Port-au-Prince appeal court on 4 August called for a new investigation into the April 2000 murder of Radio Haïti Inter director Jean Dominique and the station's caretaker, Jean-Claude Louissant. It also ordered the release of three of the six people who had been charged – Ralph Joseph, Ralph Léger and Junior Demarat, who were suspected of complicity. The other three – Jeudi Jean-Daniel and Philippe Markington (accused of complicity) and Dymsley Millien (accused of murder) – continued to be detained and they appealed to the court of cassation. This had the effect of delaying the start of the new investigation.
The appeal court had been drawn into the case as a result of two different appeals against the conclusions issued on 21 March by investigating judge Bernard Saint-Vil. The appeals had been made by Dominique's widow, Michèle Montas, who called for the reopening of the investigation, and by the lawyers for the accused, who had called for their release. In his conclusions, Saint-Vil did not indict Dr. Alix Charles or Benjamin Delano or attorney Ephesien Joassaint or Senator Dany Toussaint or Toussaint's bodyguard, Franck Joseph, or his "right-hand man," Richard Salomon, on the grounds that there was not "sufficient, corroborating evidence to support their complicity in the murder."
Radio Haïti Inter, which had been run by Montas since Dominique's death, finally stopped broadcasting on 22 February. "We have already lost three lives and we refuse to lose more," Montas said, referring to anonymous phone calls threatening the radio station's staff with the same fate as Maxime Séïde, oral threats made against staff in the course of their work and the presence of vehicles without licence plates prowling around the station. Séïde was Montas' bodyguard, who was gunned down in an attempt on her life on 25 December 2002.
27 journalists physically attacked
Rémy Mathieu of radio Magic Stereo sustained a head injury from a missile thrown while he was covering a demonstration in the centre of Port-au-Prince on 10 January 2003. An initial demonstration by government opponents encountered a demonstration by pro-Aristide popular organisations armed with firearms and rocks, which attacked the opposition protesters. Mathieu was taken to hospital by police.
Gérard Maxineau, Radio Métropole's correspondent in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien, was manhandled and hit by members of popular organisations linked to the ruling Fanmi Lavalas party on 22 February as he was covering an opposition demonstration.
Reporter Daniel Rodney Jean Baptiste and cameraman Jean Marie Médor of Tele Ti Moun were attacked by opposition supporters during a demonstration in Cap-Haïtien on 8 February because they had interviewed government allies.
Presumed government supporters went to the home of Radio Métropole reporter Goudou Jean-Numa in Carrefour (in the southwestern section of Port-au-Prince) on 14 February and demanded to see him. As he was not there, they went away. But they came back later, armed, and tried to burn down the house by setting fire to the car parked in the garage. Neighbours helped put out the fire. Two days later, gunmen appeared outside the home of the mother of Radio Métropole presenter Nancy Roc in the Port-au-Prince district of Delmas. They fired twice on the house, threw bottles and shouted insults. They fled when the security guard assigned to the house opened fire on them. Gunmen had already fired on the house in December 2002. Roc and Jean-Numa had covered an opposition activity in Cap-Haïtien on 7 February. Jean-Numa left Haiti for Canada a few weeks later.
The home of Voice of America correspondent Montigène Sincère in Petit-Goâve, 77 km west of the capital, was attacked on 18 February by about 200 members of popular organisations and Fanmi Lavalas activists who had come for the funeral of a fellow activist killed on 2 February. They fired shots at the house before setting fire to it. The police came and arrested Sincère and his two sons, Elysé and David Sincère, local correspondents for Radio Vision 2000 and Haïti Focus. The police said this was to protect them.
Romney Cajuste and Cossy Roosevelt of Radio Métropole, François Jean-Baptiste of Radio Vision 2000 and Rodson Josselin of the online news agency Haïti Press Network were badly beaten by police outside the French embassy. They had followed a group of student demonstrators there after police dispersed a demonstration outside the national palace.
Radio Métropole correspondent Estiverne Noalex was hit by a policeman on 20 March in Saint-Marc (north of the capital) during a demonstration by secondary school students demanding President Aristide's departure.
Jean Louis Kenson of Signal FM, Calas Alex of Radio Lankasyèl, Joël Doriphonse of Kadans FM and Joseph Desrameaux of Radio Phare were injured by thrown stones on 12 July in Cité Soleil, the capital's biggest shantytown. They were attacked by Fanmi Lavalas supporters who had come to disrupt a demonstration staged by the Group of 184, a civil society alliance that was calling for Aristide's departure.
Rodson Josselin of the online news agency Haïti Press Network was attacked by Aristide supporters on 5 December while covering a student demonstration calling for the president's resignation. They hit him on the arms with sticks and made verbal threats. At least two other journalists, including Radio Kiskeya reporter Vénèl Casséus, sustained minor injuries from thrown stones.
Fegentz Calès Paul of Radio Antilles received several baton blows on 6 December from police superintendent Ricardo Etienne while covering a demonstration in the eastern part of the capital calling for Aristide's departure. Radio Antilles director Jacques Sampeur said a group of about 40 chimères had previously laid siege to the station on 12 December, threatening to set it on fire. The journalists were trapped inside from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Gunmen aboard a state agency vehicle fired at Josué Jean and Wendy Richard of Radio Vision 2000 on 17 December while they were covering a demonstration calling for the president's departure. The two journalists described the incident as attempted murder. Two Radio Ibo journalists, Hans Pierre-Louis and Patrick Chéry, were chased down Port-au-Prince streets by government supporters the same day.
Alexis Eddy Jackson of Radio Solidarité was hit on 17 December by anti-Aristide demonstrators who resented his station's pro-government bias. They smashed his tape-recorder and threw stones at the station's vehicle.
15 journalists threatened
Radio Métropole news editor Rotchild François Jr. was threatened at the start of February by Amiot Métayer, the head of the Cannibal Army, a pro-Aristide armed group that imposed a reign of terror in the city of Gonaïves. Métayer uttered his threats on the air in an interview for Radio Ginen. In a recent interview with the justice minister, François had asked embarrassing questions about Métayer, who broke out of prison in August 2002 and was never re-arrested.
Radio Kiskeya director and presenter Lilianne Pierre-Paul on 3 May received a package containing a 12 mm bullet and a letter threatening her with death if she did not read out a statement on the air supporting President Aristide's call for France to give Haiti 21.7 billion dollars as restitution for a sum Haiti had to pay France in the 19th century for recognition of its independence. The letter was signed by six popular organisations – Dòmi Nan Bwa, Cercueil, Bale Wouze, Buf, Pilate and Tête-Ciel. Three were known to be linked to the ruling Fanmi Lavalas party.
It was reported on 19 September that local correspondents Rodrigue Tiraud of Caraïbes FM, Thomas James of Radio Kiskeya, Eliézer Melchior of Radio Vision 2000, Ovinski Wilson of Radio Métropole, Joseph Rémy of Radio Ibo and Israel Roger Claudy of Radio Ginen had been threatened by police superintendent Josaphat Civil and other policemen in the central plateau town of Mirebalais. The journalists had all taken part in a programme on 13 September on Radio Excelsior in which they criticised the local police for mistreating a doctor at the moment of his arrest.
Nancy Roc, the presenter of the programme "Metropolis" on Radio Metropole, was threatened by heavily-armed individuals parked outside her home on 6 December in a blue jeep with the licence number M-9734. They stayed there until midday the next day. Roc linked this threat to the political stance she took in her programmes.
Wendy Richard of Radio Vision 2000 was threatened with violence on the air on 16 December by Jean-Marie "Pa Pè Chay" Perrier, the head of a pro-Aristide popular organisation in the south of the country. Perrier also threatened Radio Vision 2000 newsroom editor Marie-Lucie Bonhomme, Radio Vision 2000 reporter Valéry Numa and Radio Kiskeya's two co-directors, Lilianne Pierre-Paul and Sony Bastien. In an interview for Radio Ginen the same day, Fanmi Lavalas parliamentary representative Nawoom Marcellus accused these journalists of supporting Aristide's removal and of using violent language, and he called on the National Association of Haitian Media (ANMH) to discipline them.
Saint Hilaire Jocelyn, the correspondent of Radio Ibo and Radio Hispagnola Internationale in the northeastern town of Trou du Nord, went into hiding after six gunmen fired shots at his home and car on the night of 26 December. He had been the first journalist to report that a young secondary school student was shot dead during an anti-Aristide demonstration on 17 December. His family said it received further threats while he was in hiding.
Harassment and obstruction
Radio Métropole in Port-au-Prince stopped broadcasting news for 24 hours on 18 February 2003 to protest against recent threats and attacks on members of its staff, including Goudou Jean-Numa, Nancy Roc and Rotchild François Jr. This was the first time that the station had done this, and its purpose was to convey a powerful message.
Fanmi Lavalas supporters destroyed the sign of the privately-owned radio station Sans Souci FM during a demonstration in the Carénage district of the northern city of Cap-Haïtien on 6 April, accusing the station of broadcasting news that reflected badly on the government. The station does not have its own news programmes, but relays four daily news bulletins broadcast by privately-owned radio stations in the capital.
In a broadcast carried by several radio and TV stations in the capital on 21 September, justice minister Calixte Delatour, secretary of state for communication Mario Dupuy and National Telecommunications Council director Jean Harry Céant threatened to enforce a law passed by former President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier in October 1977 that forced the news media to broadcast government messages and civic education programmes free of charge.
Fanmi Lavalas parliamentary representative Nawoom Marcellus on 28 September accused several radio stations of receiving international funding to wage a campaign against the government. The next day, on the eve of the anniversary of the September 1991 coup d'état, a popular organisation in the Port-au-Prince district of Carrefour-Feuilles said the media resembled a new army with the job of promoting a new coup against Aristide. Similar comments by President Aristide a year earlier were interpreted as a green light to his supporters to attack overly critical journalists.
Radio Métropole reported in an article on its website on 22 October that government criticism of the press had increased in recent weeks. It quoted a statement the previous day by Prime Minister Yvon Neptune implying that the press distorted the facts, which was seen as legitimizing violence against journalists. Presidential spokesman Haendel Carré had said on 8 February: "The press underestimates President Aristide's popularity."
Radio Maxima, a privately-owned station based in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien, suspended its news programmes on 27 October, claiming it had received threats from government associates. Radio Maxima director Jean-Robert Lalane was a leader of the local opposition, which was calling for President Aristide's departure.
Individuals armed with submachine-guns opened fire on the privately-owned Radio Caraïbes in Port-au-Prince on 28 October, seriously damaging the building's facade and the car of sports reporter Harold Domond but causing no victims. Witnesses said the gunmen's car had a state agency licence plate. Editor Jean-Elie Moléus said the station regularly received threats. It was forced to briefly suspend its broadcasts.
Aristide opponents ransacked the studios of privately-owned radio Pyramide in Saint-Marc (north of the capital) on 11 November. The assailants reportedly included Marc Antoine Aldorphe, the manager of radio Tête à Tête, a rival Saint-Marc station. Pyramide was suspected of reporting Tête à Tête to the National Telecommunications Council (which is in charge of the use of radio frequencies). The attack came a few hours after Saint-Marc judicial officials confiscated Tête à Tête's transmitter and two of its microphones and sealed its studios on the grounds that the station was operating without a permit. It his programmes, Aldorphe had criticised the government's local allies in general and, in particular, had criticised Pyramide for its support of the government.
Opposition supporters marched outside pro-government Radio Solidarité on 11 December, threatening to destroy the radio station. Station manager Venel Remarais reported that, after further threats, the station suspended broadcasts for six hours on 13 December.
Radio Vision 2000, Radio Métropole, Radio Caraïbes and Radio Kiskeya suspended broadcasting on 11 December as a result of threats from Aristide supporters and allegations earlier that day by Lavalas parliamentarian Nawoom Marcellus that news media were broadcasting anti-government propaganda and were paid by the United States. Marcellus had promised that they would receive "the appropriate response" and he had urged Aristide's supporters to take up arms. The four radio stations resumed broadcasting the next day. Radio Kiskeya director Lilianne Pierre-Paul said the government simply resented the fact that the news media reported what was happening.
Police in Cap-Haïtien, the country's second-largest city, went to Radio Maxima with a search warrant on 17 December looking for arms. They destroyed part of the station's material and arrested its caretaker. The sign of the Cap-Haïtien relay antenna of the Port-au-Prince based Radio Vision 2000 was smashed at 8 a.m. the same day. As a result, the station suspended broadcasting until the end of the day. Several Cap-Haïtien radio station also suspended their news programmes that day. Radio Maxima had been the target of shooting by gunmen the previous evening and Lavalas parliamentarian Nawoom Marcellus had promised at the beginning of the week to deal "forcibly" with its director, Jean-Robert Lalane. In the days following Radio Maxima's closure, two of its journalists left the country and three went into hiding.
South African soldiers searched the studios of Radio Etincelle in Gonaïves on 30 December, on the eve of an official visit to Haiti by South African President Thabo Mbeki for the bicentenary of Haiti's independence. Station manager Claudel Stalinien said they were looking for explosives. They were accompanied by a Haitian policeman who stayed outside. Radio Etincelle decided to close temporarily after the raid, criticising the climate of intimidation for journalists in Gonaïves.
Fifteen journalists went into exile in 2003 after being physically attacked or threatened. They were Léontes Dorzilmé of Vision 2000; Michèle Montas, Pierre Emmanuel, Jan J. Dominique, Jean-Roland Chéry, Guerlande Eloi and Imacula Placide of Radio Haïti Inter; Bidry Dorsainvil of Voix de l'Ave Maria; René Josué of Signal FM; Goudou Jean-Numa of Radio Métropole; Rénald Lubérice of Rotation FM; and Tchéita Vital, Grégory Juste, Guy Férolus and Ernst Florestal of Radio Ti Moun and Tele Ti Moun, which belong to the Aristide Foundation. The last four said they had been threatened with reprisals if they did not report news favourable to the government.