Journalist sentenced to prison for defamation

New York, December 12, 2008–A Port-au-Prince court sentenced journalist and press freedom advocate Guyler Delva to one month in prison on Wednesday for defaming a former senator. Delva said he has received death threats he believes are linked to the case. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the court’s decision today, and urged Haitian authorities to investigate the threats against Delva.

The court sentenced Delva, president of the local press group S.O.S. Journalistes and local correspondent for the BBC and Reuters, for defaming the former Haitian Senator Rudolphe Boulos, the journalist told CPJ. According to Delva, the court allowed the plaintiff to present his case on December 3, after two months of postponing the legal process against Delva, without the presence of the journalist or his lawyer. Delva told CPJ that he has appealed the decision.

Boulos filed defamation charges against Delva earlier this year, alleging the journalist had defamed him by stating that the senator failed to testify about the April 3, 2000, unsolved slaying of Haitian journalist Jean-Léopold Dominique, according to CPJ sources. Delva, also president of an independent committee that is evaluating stalled investigations into unsolved journalist murders, told CPJ that he based his statement on the official Dominique investigation. Delva has urged Boulos to testify during several radio interviews and press conferences since November 2007.

“The decision to sentence Delva to prison on defamation charges shows that Haiti is out of step with the regional consensus to decriminalize defamation,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior Americas program coordinator. “We call on the appeal court to overturn the defamation conviction and the Haitian authorities to thoroughly investigate the threats against Delva.”

On Wednesday evening, Delva found a note on his car’s windshield stating, “You will find what you are looking for if you continue to insist too much,” the journalist told CPJ. Delva said unidentified individuals have called his cell phone repeatedly from blocked numbers over the last three weeks warning him to “shut up.” At least twice the callers told Delva to stop talking about Boulos, the journalist said. Delva told CPJ that he informed local police, who are investigating the threats. Delva fled Haiti in October 2007 after receiving repeated death threats.

Dominique, one of the country’s most renowned journalists and owner and director of Radio Haïti-Inter, was gunned down on April 3, 2000, outside the entrance to his Port-au-Prince station. The long-stalled investigation has been characterized by incompetence and a lack of political will, CPJ research shows.