Three reporters injured while covering mass protests in Haitian capital

New York, April 9, 2008—Two Haitian reporters were injured by rubber bullets while covering clashes between protesters and Haitian and U.N. forces in Port-au-Prince Tuesday, according to news reports and interviews. A third journalist was wounded by pellets that were fired by protesters, a press advocate said. The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Haitian and U.N. authorities to provide the necessary protection to allow journalists to work safely.

“A thorough investigation of yesterday’s incident must be conducted immediately and the results publicly disclosed,” said CPJ Executive Director, Joel Simon. “We call on Haitian and U.N. authorities to provide the necessary protection to allow journalists to continue to report on the protests safely.”

Mass protests denouncing high prices for commodities such as rice and sugar broke out across Haiti last week and intensified Tuesday in the Haitian capital, according to reports in the Haitian and international press. As violence escalated across the city, hundreds of people tried to storm the presidential palace with trash bins and were met with rubber bullets fired by the Haitian National Police and U.N. forces, according to press reports and CPJ interviews. Protesters were calling for the ouster of Haitian President René Préval and U.N. forces, press reports said.

Jean-Jacques Augustin, a photographer for the national daily Le Matin, and Leblanc Macaenzy, a cameraman for Channel 11 television, were struck by rubber bullets while covering the clash, Guyler Delva, president of the local press freedom group S.O.S. Journalistes, told CPJ. Both journalists were wearing press credentials and working alongside a group of other journalists near the crowd, Delva said. Augustin was struck in the back and Macaenzy in the right arm. Both were treated at a local hospital and released the same day, according to Delva.

David Wimhurst, head of communications for the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, told CPJ that it was not clear whether Haitian police or the U.N. forces had fired the rubber bullets that injured the journalists. He said U.N. forces do not target journalists.

Yves Joseph, a photographer for the Port-au-Prince-based daily Haïti Progrès, was photographing a group of protesters looting businesses near the presidential palace when he was struck in the arms and legs by pellets fired by demonstrators, Delva said. He said the protesters took Joseph’s camera and destroyed it. The photographer was hospitalized in stable condition today, Delva told CPJ. The precise type of ammunition could not be immediately determined.

Protesters across Port-au-Prince have blocked streets with improvised barricades, burned cars and buildings, and looted dozens of businesses, international press reports said. Violent groups of protesters also smashed the windows of Le Matin and the Port-au-Prince-based radio station Radio 2000 with rocks, Delva told CPJ. Since the protests began on Thursday, five people have been killed and at least 50 have been injured, the French daily Le Monde reported.