Special Report - Haiti
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Posted October 23, 2002
logo_annual_report_am.gif (5108 bytes) Haiti

Surface area : 27,750 sq. km. Population : 8,142,000 Languages : Creole, French Type of State : unitary republic

HAITI - Annual report 2002

Press freedom sharply declined in 2001, with a growing number of journalists threatened or attacked by supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. One was killed by these militants but as in the case of murdered radio journalist Jean Dominique, the killers have benefited from the complicity of the authorities.

The year began with a call by two people close to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide for the murder of two journalists and ended with the actual killing of another on December 3, when Brignol Lindor, news editor at Radio Echo 2000, was murdered a few days after a local politician from Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party had implicitly called for his demise. Between these two events, press freedom steadily deteriorated. It got notably worse after an attack in late July on the police training school (in an eastern suburb of the capital) by a group of armed men, which the government of President Aristide, who took office again as president on February 7, saw as an attempted coup d'etat. Nearly 40 journalists were threatened or attacked during the year, mostly by police or Fanmi Lavalas supporters who accused them of working for the opposition. The government rarely condemned such attacks and the lack of serious investigation on them suggests that the systematic attempt to associate the media with the opposition, so as to justify the attacks, may have originated at the highest level.

The murder of Lindor further increased the tense situation and was taken by the media as a warning. A dozen journalists were obliged to go into exile abroad after being threatened by armed Aristide supporters who took to the streets on December 17, when there was another apparent attempt to overthrow the government. The lawless situation that day led seven radio stations to stop broadcasting or suspend their news programmes and several opposition premises were burned down by Fanmi Lavalas supporters.

After the coup's failure, President Aristide reiterated his commitment to press freedom. A few hours later however, Radio Ti Moun, which is funded by the Aristide Foundation for Democracy, accused "some of the media" of having "psychologically prepared people for a coup d'etat." The following week, as he was presenting his seasonal greetings, the president warned journalists "not to tell lies."

The year also saw the continued failure to punish anyone for the April 2000 murder of Jean Dominique, the broadcaster and owner of Radio Haïti Inter. Despite government statements, virtually all state institutions obstructed the enquiry into the killing. The justice ministry failed to satisfactorily ensure the safety of the investigating judge despite threats to him. The police refused to execute arrest warrants and police officers were alleged to have turned over a major suspect in the case to a crowd of demonstrators who chopped him to death. The Senate refused to lift the immunity of one of its members, Dany Toussaint, who was the main suspect in the killing. Only a campaign by Haitian civil society groups and the international community prevented the case from being shelved. The same tradition of impunity was seen in the Lindor killing. Members of a group close to Fanmi Lavalas admitted murdering the journalist but by year-end none of them had been arrested.

A journalist killed

Brignol Lindor, news editor of Radio Echo 2000, a private station in the town of Petit-Goâve (68 km southwest of Port-au-Prince), was stoned and chopped to death on 3 December 2001. He had received threats after opposition politicians had been guests on his regular radio programme "Dialogue." On November 30, one of the town's deputy mayors, Dumay Bony (Fanmi Lavalas), called for "zero tolerance" to be applied to several opposition members and mentioned Lindor's name among them. "Zero tolerance" is President Aristide's policy of giving a free hand to police to deal on the spot with criminals caught in the act. Human rights organisations say this has led to many summary executions by the police and lynchings by members of the public. Lindor's brother strongly denied that the journalist belonged to the opposition and it was noted that Lindor also had pro-government figures on his programme. An investigation by the Haitian Journalists' Association (AJH) disclosed that members of the grassroots organisation Domi Nan Bwa (Sleep in the Woods), which is linked to Fanmi Lavalas, admitted killing Lindor. They told the AJH they had killed him "not as a journalist but as a member of the opposition" and had acted to avenge an attack earlier in the day by presumed opposition members on Joseph Céus Duverger, the leader of Domi Nan Bwa. The first target of the militants was Love Augustin, who said the crowd lost interest in him as soon as they saw Lindor in his vehicle and rushed towards it shouting : "There's Lindor, who Dumay says deserves zero tolerance !" Emmanuel Clédanor, a former journalist for Radio Plus, was with Lindor and managed to escape. The local court in Petit-Goâve issued 20 arrest warrants against Domi Nan Bwa and deputy mayor Bony after receiving the AJH's report on the killing, but by the end of the year none had been carried out. Several opposition supporters suspected of involvement in the attack on Duverger were harassed however.

A media assistant killed

Nearly 300 people armed with guns, machetes and sticks attacked the long-wave transmitters of Radio Lumière and Radio Vision Nouvelle at Ménélas, a northern suburb of Port-au-Prince, on 20 April 2001. Fritz Antoine Jean, Radio Vision Nouvelle's watchman, was chopped to death. Another of the station's watchmen, Alcis Delcé, as well as a guard at Radio Lumière, Félix Jean-Charles, were wounded in the attack, in which the crowd knocked out the transmitters and made off with some of the equipment. Radio Vision Nouvelle put the damage at $200,000 (220,000 euros). The radio, which broadcasts only on long-wave, was forced to go off the air. The attackers reportedly said they were looking for criminals hiding in the area. Radio Vision Nouvelle's boss, Pierre Joseph Louissant, said it was very hard to know who was responsible for the attack, but he did not rule out it having been a "calculated action" because the radio had received threats since the attack. He said the suspension of broadcasts was "a big blow" for the farmers for the programmes were tailored. The head of Radio Lumière, Luviaud Duvernard, called the attack a "disturbing event," noting that the same transmitters were attacked in 2000, when a watchman was injured. The Protestant Radio Lumière was forced to close for several months in 1992 after soldiers broke into its premises.

New information on a journalist killed before 2001

The enquiry into the murder of Radio Haïti Inter owner Jean Dominique ran into many obstacles in 2001. The investigating judge, Claudy Gassant, was threatened several times by armed state officials, including Millien Rommage, a Fanmi Lavalas member of the chamber of deputies, police commissioner Evens Saintune and members of the presidential palace security service. Judge Gassant frequently criticised the minister of justice for failing to provide him with proper protection. The dispute at one point caused the judge to resign, but he returned to his post a few days later after local and foreign pressure. The investigation identified a Fanmi Lavalas senator, Dany Toussaint, as the main suspect in the murder, but the Senate several times blocked moves to involve him in the enquiry, first in January, when the judge simply wanted to question him, and then from August, by refusing to lift his parliamentary immunity. Toussaint's supporters staged several demonstrations to denounce a "conspiracy" against him and called for Judge Gassant's arrest. At the same time, the senator's lawyers mounted a procedural offensive to slow down the legal process. They brought six lawsuits before four different courts - civil, summary, appeal and supreme. Five of the suits were based on the illegal questioning (at the request of Toussaint's lawyers) of several people being held in connection with the case. On 28 September, Paul Raymond and René Civil, two leaders of grassroots organisations with ties to Fanmi Lavalas, held a press conference despite the fact that Judge Gassant had issued a warrant for their arrest. A few days later, it was learned that the police had given no orders to execute warrants for the arrest of Richard "Cha Cha" Salomon, Toussaint's "right-hand man," and Franck Joseph, his bodyguard, both of them accused of involvement in the murder. On 9 November, Panel Rénélus, a major suspect in the case, was lynched by a crowd of demonstrators in the presence of Judge Gassant the day after he had been arrested. Gassant said Rénélus had been "handed over to the crowd by the police."

In December, Raymond and Civil finally answered the judge's summons for questioning soon after President Aristide had spoken to their lawyer. By the end of the year, the Senate had still not acted on Gassant's request for Toussaint's immunity to be lifted. As each new obstacle to the investigation arose, civil society organisations and Radio Haiti Inter, run by Michèle Montas, Dominique's widow, demanded that state institutions do their duty and not hamper the enquiry. Dominique, Haiti's best known journalist and political commentator, was killed on 3 April 2000 in the courtyard of his radio station. The station's gatekeeper, Jean-Claude Louissant, was also killed in the attack.

Two journalists arrested

Libérus Renald and Claude François, reporters with the radio station Rotation FM, in the eastern frontier town of Belladère, were arrested on 9 August 2001 by police who came to the station and confiscated a tape of statements by former soldiers who reportedly attacked the police training school in Port-au-Prince on 28 July. When the journalists refused to hand over the tape, the police hit them and took them to the police station. They were released after three hours. The radio was forced to go off the air for two weeks.

Twelve journalists exiled

Paul Ignace Janvier, of the TV station Télémax, left the country in August 2001 after being badly beaten up by presumed supporters of the ruling Fanmi Lavalas party. Janvier had refused an offer in October 2000 to work at Télé Ti Moun, a TV station funded by the Aristide Foundation for Democracy, and had since been regularly harassed. A job had been offered to several journalists at Télémax.

Ulrick Justin, the correspondent of Radio Vision 2000 in Léogane, left the country on 16 December after several weeks of receiving death threats from local politicians close to Fanmi Lavalas who regarded him as an "enemy of the people," saying that he was working against the government. At the end of October, a meeting was reportedly held at which it was decided to kill him. On 9 November, Justin had covered the lynching by a crowd of demonstrators of Panel Rénélus, arrested the previous day by police, who were suspected of having handed him over to the crowd. Rénélus was being investigated for his alleged role in the murder of radio journalist Jean Dominique.

Ten more journalists left Haiti at the end of December. They were Phares Duverné, Robert Philomé, Midi Pierre Richard and Yves Clausel Alexis, all of Radio Vision 2000, Abel Descollines of Radio Galaxie, Carlo Sainristil (news editor) and Wien-Weibert Arthus (reporter) of Radio Caraïbes FM, Gaston Janvier of the Réseau caribéen de presse (Recap), Garry Bélizaire of the radio station Signal FM and Franceline Léonard, correspondent of Radio Métropole in the southwestern town of Les Cayes. Their departure came after an apparent attempted coup d'etat on December 17, when the regime called several thousand supporters of President Aristide into the streets. Armed with machetes, sticks and guns, they threatened journalists from several radio stations, accusing them of being too critical of the government. Duverné and Philomé were forced to shout "Long live Aristide !" by the demonstrators, who threatened to kill them. In the early hours of 17 December, about 20 armed men attacked the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince. A few hours later, security forces regained control of the building but most of the attackers managed to get away. Several opposition premises were burned down by government supporters.

Thirteen journalists attacked

In late March 2001, Valéry Numa, Jean Sévère, Marc Sony, Yves Clausel Alexis and Robert Philomé, all of Radio Vision 2000, were set upon as they were covering a demonstration in front of an opposition party office. Some of the protesters, who said they supported President Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party, attacked the journalists and ordered them to pack up their equipment and leave.

Jean-Marie Mayard, correspondent of Radio Métropole in St Marc (95 km northwest of Port-au-Prince), was attacked on 29 September by members of the Bale Wouze (Clean Sweep) organisation, which is close to Fanmi Lavalas, as he was going home after an Aristide rally. He was insulted and threatened and his tape recorder smashed. "If you keep out putting out news that isn't pro-Lavalas, you're a dead man," one of the attackers warned him.

Jean-Robert Delciné, of Radio Haïti Inter, was attacked on 12 October by police in the Port-au-Prince slum of Cité Soleil. He was hit and threatened with death by Insp. Yrvens César and another policeman, who pointed a gun at him and confiscated his tape-recorder. The journalist had come across the two policemen as they were about to summarily execute someone.

Franceline Léonard, correspondent of Radio Métropole in Les Cayes, was beaten while out reporting on 17 November by a local pro-Lavalas leader, Romain Hilaire, who smashed her tape-recorder before passers-by overpowered him. Police who were present did not intervene. Hilaire had threatened and attacked the journalist in February 1999. Léonard, who said she was regularly a target of threats and attacks, said Hilaire accused her of giving unfavourable news coverage of the ruling party.

Evrard Saint-Armand, of Radio Kiskeya, was attacked and taken at gunpoint by a plainclothes policeman to the offices of the Anti-Gang section of the Port-au-Prince police on 25 November. The journalist had just witnessed a dispute which ended in the death of a young man. Police accused him of being responsible and he was hit several times while being questioned. The Haitian Journalists' Association (AJH) said police "knew perfectly well he was present as a journalist" and accused them of trying to "discredit" the press. Saint-Armand was freed a few hours later after the intervention of the radio's management and senior police officials. His equipment was smashed, preventing him from being able to broadcast the recording he had made of his arrest.

Ernst Océan of Radio Vision 2000 was attacked and threatened with death by members of a pro-government grassroots organisation on 29 November who fired shots at him and punctured the tyres of his car. They accused him of working for the opposition Convergence Démocratique.

Montigène Sincère, a reporter for the programme "Haïti Focus" broadcast in the United States and a former parliamentary election candidate, and his son Daniel Sincère, of "Haiti Focus" and Voice of America, were arrested by police in the southern town of Petit-Goâve on 12 December and taken to the local police station, where they were beaten, on grounds they had incited people to violence. The following week, Montigène Sincère's house was burned down by government supporters. A few days later, another of his sons, Elysée Sincère, the correspondent of Radio Vision 2000 in Petit-Goâve, was forced to go into hiding. The town had been in turmoil since the murder the previous week of journalist Brignol Lindor.

Journalists threatened

Paul Raymond and René Civil, leaders of two "popular organisations" close to President Aristide, called on 9 January 2001 for the murder of Liliane Pierre-Paul, programme director and co-owner of Radio Kiskeya, Max Chauvet, managing editor of the daily Le Nouvelliste, and several members of the opposition. The two men accused them of featuring on a list, supposedly drawn up by the opposition, of more than 100 people who, they charged, wanted to set up a parallel government to counter the return to the presidency on 7 February of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. During their press conference, they also accused Pierre-Paul of talking on the air about the "disputed parliament" when referring to the legislature produced by the May 2000 elections, whose results, as announced by Fanmi Lavalas, were questioned by the opposition and the international community. A few hours after the press conference, a can of petrol was thrown into the courtyard of Radio Kiskeya but did not catch fire. In previous weeks, the radio had received anonymous phone threats.

Roosevelt Benjamin, news editor of the Port-au-Prince radio station Signal FM, received phone calls on 9 June warning him that he was "meddling in matters" that did "not concern" him. In the next two days, he got three more such calls. In his programme "Moment Vérité" on 9 June, he had said that a new organisation, Mouvement de la Société Civile Majoritaire (Majority Civil Society Movement), was controlled by people close to senators of the ruling Fanmi Lavalas party. A few weeks earlier, armed men showed up in the neighbourhood where Michel Soukar, another journalist at the station, lived and asked people where his house and car were. In March, during pro-Lavalas demonstrations, unidentified people on motor-cycles came to the radio station and warned Soukar that he should "expect to be attacked soon."

Confident Fedner, a reporter with the Catholic station Radio Sacré-Cœur and correspondent in the southeastern town of Thiotte of Radio Ginen and Radio Express Continental, received death threats on 27 August after denouncing alleged abuses in the Thiotte town administration. He had already been threatened on 17 July by a security agent at the Thiotte town hall. Since then, he has had threats from a grassroots organisation close to the mayor of Thiotte and Fanmi Lavalas.

Jean-Marie Mayard, the correspondent of Radio Métropole in St Marc, received death threats from members of pro-government grassroots organisations during an opposition demonstration on 29 November. He was accused of not broadcasting news favourable to the government and later picked up by police for no reason and briefly detained.

Thony Bélizaire, an Agence France-Presse photographer, Gérin Alexandre and Jean-Elie Moléus, both reporters from Radio Caraïbes FM, and Guyler Delva, president of the Haitian Journalists' Association (AJH), were stopped in the street in Port-au-Prince on 17 December by emotional and armed Fanmi Lavalas supporters who had come out into the streets to support the government in the wake of an apparent attempted coup d'etat. The crowd wanted to know who the journalists in the street worked for. "We'd've killed you if you'd worked for Radio Caraïbes FM," some of them told Maxeau Exil, of the online news agency Haiti Press Network, who they threatened with a gun. Roger Damas, of Radio Ibo, managed to escape after being forced to hand over his press card and cell-phone to demonstrators who accused the radio of backing the opposition. Several journalists stayed at home that day, fearing reprisals. In the provinces, Alix Michel Félix, head of Radio Grand'Anse, and Duc Jonathan Joseph, correspondent of Radio Métropole in Gonaïves, were attacked by government supporters. Over the next few days, at least a dozen journalists were forced to go into hiding.

Thony Jean Ténor, a pro-Lavalas Haitian living in Florida, said on the government-run Radio Nationale on 19 December that journalist Ives-Marie Chanel worked for the opposition party Organisation du Peuple en Lutte (OPL - Organisation of the People in Struggle). Interviewed by the station's news editor, Jean Th. Pierre-Louis, he said Chanel was one of those "disappointed" by the failure of the 17 December apparent coup attempt. On 18 December, Chanel had been heard on Kafou, a Haitian community radio station in Florida, deploring the dangerous situation in Haiti for journalists. The head of Kafou, Alex Saint-Surin, said that since the broadcast he had been attacked by pro-Lavalas stations in Florida. Chanel is boss of the Sans-Souci FM radio station, programme director for Radio Ibo and correspondent in Haiti for the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and Reporters Without Borders.

On 24 December, two provincial organisations, the Association of Journalists of the Southeast and the Gonaives Media Workers' Association, denounced threats and intimidation by government supporters against journalists in these areas. Pressure and obstruction

On 17 December 2001, the day of an apparent attempted coup d'etat, four privately-owned radio stations in the capital - Radio Métropole, Radio Vision 2000, Radio Caraïbes FM and Radio Kiskeya - went off the air for security reasons, while others, such as Radio Galaxie, Signal FM, and Radio Ibo, stopped broadcasting news. Some stations said they had been threatened, while others deplored the general atmosphere of lawlessness with armed Fanmi Lavalas supporters on the streets in support of the government. Some Fanmi Lavalas supporters attacked Radio Caraïbes FM, smashing the windows of cars at the station. Two vehicles, belonging to the TV station Télémax and Radio Métropole, were also damaged near the presidential palace. In the provinces, Radio Maxima, in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien, was forced to go off the air for several days after being threatened by members of pro-government grassroots organisations. The online news agency Haïti Press Network reported that radio stations in the southwestern town of Jérémie faced a similar situation. In subsequent days, the radios gradually resumed their programmes, but Radio Caraïbes FM announced it was suspending its news broadcasts until January 2002.

Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press freedom throughout the world, as well as the right to inform the public and to be informed, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Reporters Without Borders has nine national sections (in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom), representatives in Abidjan, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Montreal, Moscow, Nairobi, New York, Tokyo and Washington and more than a hundred correspondents worldwide.

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