Port-au-Prince, June 13, 2002—After a three-day fact-finding mission, a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has found that journalists in Haiti face a troubling atmosphere of intimidation and fear.
Haitian journalists have told CPJ of violent attacks and threats that largely remain unpunished. Some have felt obliged to censor themselves, go into hiding, or even leave their country.
CPJ is extremely concerned that the killers of Jean Léopold Dominique and Brignolle Lindor have not been brought to justice.
Dominique, a revered radio reporter, was killed by an assassin in April 2000. Lindor, the director of a radio station outside the capital, Port-au-Prince, was killed last December by a machete-wielding mob of government supporters after inviting members of the opposition to appear on his program.
After one journalist who witnessed Lindor’s killing spoke out about it, armed police came looking for him even though the judge in the case said that he had issued no summons. The journalist is currently in hiding.
In separate interviews, journalists have said that they feel freer than they would under the Duvaliers, but also more intimidated. (The notorious brutal regimes of Francois Duvalier and his son Jean Claude ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1986.) Today, as several journalists said, “The threats can come from anywhere,” including the “OP” or “Popular
Organizations,” which are community organizations that have become more like vigilante groups.
Many journalists find a dangerous message in President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s June 2001 announcement of a “Zero Tolerance” campaign ostensibly designed to crack down on crime. Observers fear that the new policy will encourage the sort of extrajudicial mob action that killed Lindor.
“We urge President Aristide to send clear signals that the rule of law prevails, and that no journalist should face violence for doing his or her job,” said Clarence Page, a member of CPJ’s board of directors. “He should commit the government to protecting the witness in the Lindor case and bringing the killers to justice.”
In addition to Page, the CPJ delegation included board member Franz Allina and Americas program coordinator Marylene Smeets. During their visit, delegation members met with numerous journalists and press freedom advocates, as well as with Haiti’s secretary of state for communications, Mario Dupuy.
CPJ welcomes the release last Saturday of two journalists—Darwin St. Julien of Haïti Progrès and Alande Deshommes of Radio Atlantik—who were detained in the town of St. Raphaël. But we deplore that they were held for 13 days without charges or medical attention. One journalist was slashed in the face with a machete and may lose an eye.
CPJ calls for a thorough investigation of these detentions and the conditions under which they were carried out.
New legal regulations
CPJ is alarmed that the Information Ministry is considering a new law to regulate journalism. We add our voice to those journalists and media owners who have been consulted and strongly oppose any such legislation.
We also strongly oppose existing Haitian law, under which journalists can face prison in reprisal for their work. We believe a civil forum can provide adequate redress for defamation charges.
On January 7, President Aristide pledged in a meeting with journalists, “I will do everything in my power so that journalists can do their jobs without interference, and I will make sure all the laws are respected.”
CPJ calls on the president to fulfill his promise by taking swift and decisive action.