President Ronald Venetiaan, leader of a moderate coalition of ethnic parties, proved as respectful of press freedom as journalists had hoped when he took office in August 2000. Since then, no major abuses have been reported in this former Dutch colony of less than half a million inhabitants.
Under the previous government, journalists were routinely harassed and subject to diatribes from strongman Dési Bouterse, leader of the then-ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). An August 12, 2000, meeting between Venetiaan and representatives of the media went a long way toward assuring local journalists that the press would have a good relationship with the new administration. Nita Ramcharan, editor-in-chief of Suriname’s leading daily De Ware Tijd, reported that Venetiaan kept his promises throughout 2001. “Press freedom has been completely respected by this government,” she said.
The NDP station Radio Kankantrie was taken off the air twice during the year for administrative reasons, but local sources said the actions might have come in reprisal for the station’s anti-government broadcasts. However, Radio Kankantrie has been on the air without problems ever since.
Local journalists say that Bouterse, who remains a political force in Suriname as an opposition member of the National Assembly, and his followers kept fairly quiet in 2001. Bouterse is being investigated in Suriname for his role in the 1982 massacre of 15 political opponents. In a separate investigation, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled on September 18 that Bouterse cannot be tried in the Netherlands for the massacre. But on October 23, the same court upheld an 11-year sentence against him for cocaine smuggling.
Suriname’s deep-seated culture of intolerance was revealed on the night of May 28, when three men attacked Dutch reporter Armand Snijders. The men blocked his car, beat and kicked him, and burned him with cigarettes. Snijders, who has lived in Suriname since 1993 and has worked for the Dutch news service Geassocieerde Pers Diensten for the last three years, told CPJ that the assault was probably related to his reporting about a former military officer whom he suspected of being involved in cocaine smuggling. The investigation into the attack has not yielded any results, Snijders said.