The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned about the detention of several Dominican journalists who criticized your government. We believe that these detentions were designed to intimidate and harass journalists into censoring themselves and, therefore, jeopardize the Dominican Republic’s reputation as a country that respects press freedom.
On July 23, Horacio Emilio Lemoine and Carlos Martínez, who work at Radio Montecristi, in the northern town of Montecristi, held an informal, on-air poll asking callers which candidate they would vote for if presidential elections were held that day. The issue is sensitive because you recently announced plans to run for re-election. A listener called and said that she would rather vote for the devil. Subsequently, other listeners called to concur.
According to Lemoine, two days later at around 9 p.m., he and Martínez were at a restaurant when the police came and told them that local police chief Col. Frank Félix Almonte Castillo wanted to speak to them. When they arrived at the station, Colonel Almonte told them he had received orders “from above” to take them to the capital, Santo Domingo.
Later that night, Lemoine and Martínez were taken to Santo Domingo’s National Police headquarters, where they were placed in a cell with common criminals and held for more than two days. Lemoine said that police questioned him and Martínez on July 28 for about 30 minutes, asking them how they had come up with the idea of the poll. The two journalists were then handcuffed and sent back to Montecristi, where they were held for an hour at the police station and released.
Lemoine told CPJ that the police did not show them any arrest warrant and no one from the Public Prosecutor’s Office was present during the arrest, as required under Dominican law. As of today, no charges have been filed against Lemoine and Martínez.
This is not the first such case. Last month, state security officials interrogated journalist Marino Zapete Corniel, who writes a column for the Miami-based online newspaper Los
Nuevos Tiempos Digital and the local weekly Primicias, and accused him of personally insulting you in a series of articles published in April and May.
According to Zapete, four officials from the National Department of Investigations (DNI) and an assistant prosecutor arrived at his home in Santo Domingo on June 11 without an arrest warrant and asked him to come with them to DNI headquarters. After more than five hours of questioning, your press secretary told DNI director, Gen. Fernando Cruz Méndez, that he had orders from you to release the journalist.
Zapete had written a series of articles that criticized your handling of the financial collapse of Banco Intercontinental (Baninter), one of the country’s largest banks, contending that its collapse would not have been possible if the government’s Banking Supervision Agency had done its job. Zapete also claimed that you had defended Baninter’s owners and had shown little concern for its account holders and Dominican taxpayers, who will have to repay the money the government pumped into Baninter to keep it afloat. In two of the articles, Zapete claimed that you were building two mansions in the country using public funds.
According to Zapete, during his interrogation, the DNI asked him about his political preferences and what he thought about Your Excellency. The DNI interrogators also tried to pressure Zapete to reveal his sources. Zapete told CPJ that he did not disclose his sources and stood by what he wrote.
In all these cases, Your Excellency publicly threatened to file charges against the journalists but later refrained. As the leader of your country, you are at the center of public debate and, therefore, you must tolerate public scrutiny of your activities. We urge you to immediately stop harassing journalists who are critical of your administration. Such actions not only interfere with the rights of the Dominican people to free and unfettered information, but do grave damage to the Dominican Republic’s reputation as a democratic country that tolerates dissent.
We thank you for your attention and await your response.