Haitian radio station destroyed in arson attack

New York, April 26, 2011–The Community to Protect Journalists condemned Thursday’s arson attack on Haitian community radio station Tèt Ansanm Karis and called on local authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice. The blaze destroyed the station’s offices and all equipment and left the northeastern city of Carice without a local radio station.

According to news reports and CPJ interviews, armed men identified as supporters of a legislative candidate raided Tèt Ansanm Karis on Thursday afternoon, setting fire to the station and the cultural center that housed it along with several neighboring homes and a community library. According to a statement by the station’s director, Annol Phylidor, all the equipment and the office itself was reduced to ashes. No injuries were reported.

In an interview with CPJ, Sony Esteus, director of the Haitian communications association SAKS and Haiti representative for the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) said the attack occurred after the station aired coverage of controversial legislative election results announced Thursday.

According to Esteus, the arsonists were clearly identified by radio staff and neighbors as supporters of Jean Berthole Bastien, the Northeast Department’s incumbent legislative candidate from the Unity party. Bastien’s lead was reversed in the final count of the March 20 elections after initial results showed him to be ahead of his rival, Solidarité candidate Fanèse Laguerre, according to a U.S. Embassy statement.

“Haitian authorities must bring the perpetrators of this vicious attack on Radio Tèt Ansanm Karis to justice and ensure that radio stations, no matter how small, are allowed to cover political topics without fear of reprisals,” said CPJ’s Executive Director Joel Simon.

The Associated Press reported Monday that certification of election results for 19 legislative races had been delayed following discrepancies in the number of votes reported by Haiti’s election commission. The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince has asked the commission to account for dramatic reversals in 18 races between preliminary and final vote counts, according to press reports. In all but two of the 18 races in question, the swing favored the Unity Party of outgoing president René Preval. Sporadic protests, some violent, have sprung up around the country, news reports said.

Radio Tèt Ansanm Karis, founded in 2005 with the support of the Center for the Culture and Development of Carice, was the only station serving the town of about 10,000 residents that borders the Dominican Republic. In addition to reporting on the daily news, the station broadcast educational, environmental, and cultural programming.