Dominican police, firing pellets, wound reporter

New York, February 2, 2011Dominican police wounded journalist Francisco Frías Morel on Friday as he was covering a funeral procession for a youth killed in a police shooting in the northeastern city of Nagua, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on local authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and to hold those responsible to account. 

“We condemn the use of violence by Dominican police to obstruct news coverage,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We call on authorities to investigate the attack and bring those responsible to justice.”    

Frías was among a group of 15 journalists covering a funeral procession for Luís Alfredo Domínguez, 21, who had been killed in a police shooting on January 26, news reports said. A police commission is investigating the Domínguez shooting, which sparked protests over perceived police violence, the Santo Domingo-based daily El Nacional reported. Four police officers have been arrested in connection with the shooting.  

On Friday, journalists in front of the funeral procession were confronted by about a dozen police officers, according to Frías and Teonilda Gómez, Nagua correspondent for Santo Domingo-based news daily Listín Diario. The agents fired pellets and launched tear gas canisters, prompting reporters to take cover, Frías and Gómez told CPJ. Frías was hit in the face and abdomen with the pellets, local press reports said. The journalists were wearing press passes and had clearly labeled equipment, including cameras and video cameras, according to Frias and Gómez. Frías was taken by a colleague to a hospital where he remained until Sunday. One pellet remained lodged near his left eye, according to press reports. Frías told CPJ he planned to seek further medical care in Santo Domingo this week.  

Frías, 45, is director of FM Cabrera, runs a news blog, and co-produces a daily news program called “El Desahogo” on Radio Trébol FM. He had been critical of a police report indicating that Domínguez had been killed in a shootout with local police. Frías reported on his blog, Prensa Libre Nagua, and on “El Desahogo,” that police had shot Domínguez at close range.

In an interview with CPJ, the Nagua police commander, Col. Juan Antonio Lora Castro, said that police did not fire on the journalists but were trying to disperse what he called an unruly crowd. Lora Castro, who took command in Nagua this week, said only rubber bullets were used in Friday’s protest.

Frías, who also works in a local senator’s press office, said he believes police targeted him for his reporting on Domínguez’s death. He said the crowd was at least 250 feet (75 meters) behind the group of journalists and around a corner.