Attacks on the Press 2007: Haiti

Press conditions improved slightly during a year of relative political stability. A decline in gang violence in the capital, Port-au-Prince, allowed reporters to make a cautious return to the city’s streets. And, with the strong support of President René Préval, an independent committee was created in August to monitor stalled investigations into a series of journalist murders this decade.

The committee was led by journalist Joseph Guyler Delva, president of the press freedom group S.O.S. Journalistes, and included eight Port-au-Prince reporters from different media outlets. A joint initiative between S.O.S. Journalistes and Préval, the committee was charged with identifying problems in the murder investigations and expediting solutions. Its members had access to official police and court documents in the murders of at least 10 Haitian journalists, Delva said. The committee was tasked with studying the case files, determining how and why the cases stalled, and issuing public reports with recommendations on how to speed the process.

In a meeting with a CPJ delegation in New York on September 26, Préval said political obstacles to justice had been removed. “Haitian politicians and investigators had not been interested in pursuing justice in cases of murdered journalists because some of them were implicated in these crimes,” Préval told CPJ. “But now the situation has changed; there is political will, and this will allow us to make progress.”

CPJ called on the Haitian government to strengthen the investigations by providing police, judges, and prosecutors with sufficient resources to do their jobs. The long-delayed prosecution of the cases has been characterized by incompetence, corruption, and a lack of official resolve, according to CPJ’s analysis.

The committee achieved some early results. On September 15, its members discovered a “missing” courthouse file relevant to the slaying of journalist Brignol Lindor and forwarded it to the investigators handling the case. Lindor, news director of the private Radio Echo 2000, was killed on December 3, 2001, by a machete-wielding mob in the coastal town of Petit-Goâve, 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of the capital. The missing file, which contained most of the investigation’s initial findings, set the case in motion. In December, a court convicted two members of Domi Nan Bwa–a local political organization with ties to former president Jean Bertrand Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party–and sentenced them to life imprisonment in the slaying. The court also issued arrest warrants for five other members.

Prosecutors obtained a conviction in another journalist murder. On August 30, a Port-au-Prince judge sentenced Alby Joseph and Chéry Beaubrun, members of the local Solino gang, to life in prison for the 2005 kidnapping and murder of Jacques Roche. The committee had lobbied for the case to go to trial, Delva told CPJ. Two other gang members were detained in September in connection with Roche’s death, he said.

Roche, cultural editor of the Port-au-Prince daily Le Matin, was taken from his car on July 10, 2005. He was found dead four days later, his handcuffed body riddled with bullets and mutilated. According to The Associated Press, Roche’s captors demanded US$250,000 in ransom. During their trial, Joseph and Beaubrun said they had been hired to watch Roche but killed him when they didn’t receive the full ransom, according to Haitian press reports.

Delva’s committee also examined the case of Jean-Léopold Dominique, owner and director of Radio Haïti-Inter and one of the country’s most renowned journalists. Dominique was gunned down on April 3, 2000, outside the entrance to his Port-au-Prince station. The case has been politically controversial because of potential links to Fanmi Lavalas. In October, as the committee was probing the Dominique case, Delva received a series of threatening phone calls. The anonymous callers warned Delva that he should be careful, that they were tracking his movements, and that they were going to “get him,” the journalist told CPJ. Delva fled the country for two weeks, returning after Préval offered him police protection, Haitian press reports said.

Although crime remained high, rampant gang violence and kidnappings tapered off in Port-au-Prince following a major effort by U.N. peacekeeping forces, according to international press reports. The U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, with 7,500 troops on the ground, continued to assist the Haitian government in its attempt to curb gang violence.

Improvement in security conditions gave journalists in the capital more leeway to report without fear of retribution. News managers, who had relied mostly on secondhand information when covering dangerous areas, began sending reporters into the streets again. Richard Widmaier, director of Radio Métropole in Port-au-Prince, said he began allowing his station’s reporters to go into high-risk neighborhoods on a limited basis–for example, to cover official press conferences.

In some Port-au-Prince neighborhoods and in the country’s interior, gangs continued fighting U.N. troops and one another, according to the Haitian press. One local reporter was killed in relation to his work, CPJ found, while a second was murdered in unclear circumstances.

On January 19, unidentified gunmen killed freelance photographer Jean-Rémy Badio outside his home in Martissant, one of the capital’s most dangerous slums. Gangs in Haiti have traditionally allowed only those journalists they deem friendly to report in areas under their control. Badio, a Martissant resident, often photographed gang confrontations in his neighborhood and sold the images to local dailies–a risky proposition, since gang members are averse to having their pictures taken. In a public statement, U.N. security forces said they suspected gang involvement in Badio’s murder. By October, authorities had made little to no headway in the investigation, local journalists told CPJ.

In Gonaïves, a city 105 miles (170 kilometers) north of Port-au-Prince ravaged by gang violence, two unidentified men shot and killed radio journalist Alix Joseph in May as he stood outside his wife’s house. Joseph was station manager at local Radio-Télé Provinciale, where he also hosted a popular cultural show and a weekly news program. CPJ is investigating to determine whether the slaying was related to his work.